The National Association of Blind Merchants (NABM) and VendEngine, an inmate commissary software solutions and payment processing company, have joined forces to try to create opportunities for blind entrepreneurs to manage and operate inmate commissaries in county jails and state prisons. The program is based in part on the model utilized by the Tennessee Business Enterprises Program, which currently operates 38 inmate commissaries in county jails providing entrepreneurial opportunities for over 20 blind persons, employing over 100 individuals. These commissaries generate $15 million in annual commissary sales, with the expectations of having over $17 million in the next 12 months. The average net income of blind entrepreneurs in these facilities exceeds $100,000 annually. There are only 3 or 4 other blind entrepreneurs in the country managing commissaries. NABM and VendEngine want to change that. NABM makes no money from this partnership. Its only interest is creating new opportunities for the blind.
How Do Inmate Commissaries Work?
• The inmate’s friends and family deposit money into the inmate’s account which is maintained by either the jail / prison or the blind entrepreneur;
• Deposits can be made using cash or credit card at a lobby kiosk or on-line;
• These funds are available to the inmate to purchase food, personal hygiene products, clothing, and other items from the commissary;
• The inmate places an order using a kiosk which sends the order to the blind entrepreneur’s warehouse;
• Orders are picked and packed at the warehouse and delivered to the inmate at the designated time.
Who Does What?
• Provides the kiosks to the SLA at a reduced cost;
• Provides all necessary software to manage the inmate accounts and commissary operations to the SLA and blind entrepreneur at no cost;
• Provides training on all technology to both the blind entrepreneur and the individual jails.
• Provides live-person, 24-hour customer service to inmates families and to the individual jail facilities.
• Maintains the kiosks;
• Make product available to the blind entrepreneurs at wholesale prices;
• Provides ongoing training and support; and,
• Helps SLA market the program to jails and commissaries.
• Purchases the necessary hardware;
• If covered by a priority, enters into permit agreement with the correctional institution;
• Selects the blind entrepreneur to be assigned as the manager of the facility; and,
• Purchases initial inventory.
The Blind Entrepreneur
• Manages day-to-day operations of the commissary:
o Secures an off-site warehouse
o Purchases product
o Hires employees
o Picks and packs orders
o Delivers orders to the inmates
o In some cases, manages the inmate trust fund
• NABM’s only role is to facilitate and promote – serve as the conduit to bring all parties together.
What If Your State Doesn’t Enjoy a Priority in Correctional Facilities?
There may still be an opportunity. VendEngine is often asked to bid on contracts but the bid requires a turnkey operation. VendEngine does not have a retail division. If it wishes to bid on a potential contract, VnedEngine will notify NABM and first consider partnering with a blind entrepreneur to offer day-to-day management of the commissary itself.
• The Blind Entrepreneur – Can make a lucrative income
• The SLA – Furthers its mission of providing employment for blind persons and in most states collects a meaningful set aside fee;
• The Correctional Facility – Gets the benefits of a state-of-the-art commissary service
• VendEngine – Makes money off of deposit transaction fees
For More Information
Terry C. Smith