Pa. jail selects new jail management software, inmate communication tablets
Technology upgrade for Pennsylvania’s smallest jail brings the “technology end of the jail 25 years into the present”
By Justin Strawser
The Daily Item, Sunbury, Pa.
LEWISBURG, Pa. — The Union County Jail this year introduced three new software programs to manage the jail records, commissary and communications.
The jail launched Beacon Software Solutions as a jailhouse management system at a cost of $35,000, and Oasis as the commissary services system and IC Solutions as the inmate communication system via tablets, both at no cost to the county. The systems work together to create a more efficient and digital system, according to Warden Ernie Ritter and Deputy Warden Ryan Boatman.
“When we got here earlier this year, it was like the stone age with old school paper and Excel spreadsheets,” said Boatman. “We brought the technology end of the jail 25 years into the present.”
The county jail, the smallest in Pennsylvania, is located on the ground floor of the Union County Courthouse at 103 S. Second St., Lewisburg. It has an average of 36 to 38 male inmates at a time and an average of 15 to 20 inmates housed outside the county in other facilities.
Ritter, the county sheriff, was appointed by the Union County Commissioners in November to be the jail warden. He said one of his first goals was to upgrade the jail software systems and programs.
The former jailhouse management system of Unified Case Management used by the county was discontinued for county jails. Beacon was selected out of three vendor proposals at a price of $35,000, which comes out of the prison budget, said Boatman.
“It gives us a one-stop shop,” said Boatman. “It shows us inmate names, ages, charges, bail, demographics, the next of kin, their whole life story.”
The first phase was the installation of the system. The second phase after the courthouse Wi-Fi is activated is providing handheld units for all correctional officers to digitally access the information needed wherever they are, said Boatman.
The handheld devices will allow COs to take pictures for incident reports and mug shots, scan any items given out to inmates to track who is supposed to have it, scan IDs for work release or court hearings, or input data for suicide checks or other reports, said Boatman.
Oasis, a commissary vendor out of Altoona, and IC Solutions both launched on Aug. 2. Both programs do not cost the county anything. The companies charge fees for inmates using it and the jail gets a commission, which is used toward inmate resources, said Ritter.
Through their commissary accounts, inmates can purchase candy, snacks, drinks, hygiene products, games, clothing, shoes, office supplies, books, and dozens of other items. Money can be loaded onto their accounts or commissary care packages can be sent by friends or family members through the county website or a kiosk in the lobby of the courthouse.
IC Solutions provided 45 tablets for the jail. It allows the inmates a tablet computer for communication and entertainment. The inmate and their loved one can set up emails, digital e-cards, video calls, video messages, texts, photographs and telephone calls through the tablets, said Ritter.
Inmates can use the device any time they wish, but all communication is monitored. Messages are reviewed and approved by the warden. Some entertainment, like books or games, are free, but inmates can pay to download movies or music.
“It’s very calming and it takes away the stress if someone hasn’t seen their kids, their pets or their loved ones,” said Ritter. “That’s the world to see your kid, because you can’t see your kid from jail.”
The tablets are a privilege and can be revoked based on an inmate’s behavior, said Ritter.
The tablets do not connect to the internet and are only connected to the internal system. The system is used and works in other facilities across the nation, said Boatman.
The goal is to introduce the GED program, Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous programs, law materials, probation and defense attorney services and job searching tools through the tablets, they said.
The tablets can also be used to send messages from the warden to the inmates or the inmates can fill our request forms, they said.
If intentionally damaged, the inmate is charged $250 to replace it. Most inmates don’t break the devices because they are a lifeline or their only access to the outside world, said Boatman.
Pennsylvania Title 37, which essentially instructs how prisons in the commonwealth operate, dictate that inmates have a right to mail and publications. This program makes it more secure, more accountable and more controllable, said Boatman.
It can also be used as a disciplinary tool, they said.
Boatman said other Valley correctional facilities, including Northumberland County, Snyder County and Columbia County, have programs that include tablets. Montour County Jail officials will soon be coming to Union County to take a look at its programs, said Boatman.
The jail is also using Sapphire to keep track of inmate medications.
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