Jails in Kentucky are required by law to provide 2,400 calories in meals every day to inmates. There’s no law requiring jails to provide additional commissary services.
Daviess County Jailer Art Maglinger said the jail has a commissary because state law allows a portion of commissary revenue to be used for security improvements, tools for work crews and some recreational purposes, such as paying the jail’s cable TV bill. Having a commissary also helps control inmate behavior, somewhat.
Kellwell Commissary Services sets the prices, Maglinger said.
“I do have an interest in keeping the prices low,” Maglinger said in an interview last week. “It is important to me it is reasonable.
“I know the commissary provider, and the tech provider, are in it for a profit. The jail also has a contract with a company that provides phone, email and video visitation services. We benefit (from commissary sales), but the money has to be spent to benefit inmates.”
The Messenger-Inquirer recently received a letter from someone who had spent time in the jail, who stated inmates are forced to supplement their diet with commissary items because inmates aren’t given enough food through food service.
Maglinger said the 2,400 calories per day requirement is enforced by the jail inspections, which happen twice annually. The jail also has a dietician among the medical staff, and the food manager monitors the jail food workers, to make sure they are serving adequate portions, Maglinger said.
“They are provided meals if they order commissary or not,” Maglinger said. Kellwell Food Management provides food services at the jail. When asked about related companies providing both food service and commissary, Maglinger said Kellwell’s commissary prices were better than some competing companies.
“They had a wide range of new items,” he said, “and sale prices are generally cheaper across the board.”
The commissary sells food, clothing, common medicines like cough drops, multivitamins and antibiotic ointment, hygiene items like soap, toothpaste and deodorant and snacks. There’s more than 300 items on the commissary list, and prices vary.
For example, a 20-ounce soft drink costs $2.29, a 7.5-ounce serving of beef stew is $3.29, a bowl of Frosted Flakes in $1, a large pair of boxer shorts is $3.25, a Butterfinger candy bar is $2.29, a two-pack of extra strength pain reliever is 40 cents, and a bar of Irish Spring soap is $1.39. A cheese or pepperoni pizza is $15. Prices for some items are higher, depending on brand.
A percentage of commissary sales goes to the jail’s canteen account. The jail gets 33% of food and beverage sales, 12.5% of nonfood item sales and 15% of “hot cart” sales, which are items that are heated with a microwave and brought to the pods on a cart.
State law says canteen account funds can be used “to enhance safety and security within the jail,” meaning surveillance cameras. The funds can also be used “for the benefit and to enhance the well-being of the prisoners.”
“They may not like it that we are using it for surveillance, but it is keeping them safe,” Maglinger said.
The jail has used the fund to purchase items for inmate work crews, gardening equipment for the inmate garden, board games for inmates and food for inmate workers. The fund does also pay the jail’s cable bill. Inmate pods are equipped with television.
“I think these are good things,” Maglinger said. “When I became jailer, I wouldn’t have thought inmates should have access to TV.”
But if inmates aren’t given something to do, whether it’s attend classes or work on a crew or making mattresses or even watching TV, they’ll get into trouble, Maglinger said.
“People in for a long period of time will make their own entertainment,” he said.
Inmates receive some items at booking, like a uniform and some hygiene items. When asked if inmates had to use commissary when they ran out of hygiene items, Maglinger said deputy jailers keep a stock of such items and will hand them out on request, after it is determined the inmate really needs the item.
Inmates who are considered indigent — who haven’t made a commissary purchase in seven days and have less than $1 in their accounts — can receive an “indigent kit” each week with different hygiene items. The cost of the kits, which range from $2.25 to $3, are charged to the inmate’s account.
Inmates who have unpaid jail costs can have half of commissary account deposits taken by the jail. Maglinger said the jail collects about $500,000 in inmate fees annually.
Commissary is a service for inmates, Maglinger said.
“I do see it as a positive, for the inmates and the families,” he said. “but it’s not something they are entitled to.”
James Mayse, 270-691-7303, email@example.com, Twitter: @JamesMayse