The Kansas Department of Corrections switched to ReleasePay for inmate exit cards after experiencing disappointing functionality and sub-par customer service with another disbursement vendor.
As manager of the Centralized Inmate Banking Unit for the Kansas Department of Corrections, Melissa Brooke serves as custodian for the financial accounts of approximately 8,500 offenders incarcerated in the state’s nine correctional facilities.
“Our department handles everything related to money for residents,” Brooke says. “We essentially act as their bank, although their funds are actually housed in a financial institution.”
The inmate banking unit’s role includes debiting inmate accounts when they want to send money to family members or purchase goods within their facility, such as books, magazines, media players, and food and personal items from the canteen. In addition, Brooke’s department handles payments for court filings, child support, victim restitution, and other fines and fees, as well as processing incoming funds from friends and family members to resident’s accounts.
Brooke is also responsible for closing the financial accounts of inmates who are being released and issuing their final monetary disbursements. That includes any remaining funds in their inmate accounts, earnings from in-facility, private industry and, when applicable, release gratuities (a small sum of money that some offenders receive from the state upon release).
When offenders are released from KDOC’s custody, they have two options for this payment: a check or a debit card with the funds loaded onto it.
“It can be hard for them to accept a check, because most residents don’t have a bank account set up when they’re released,” Brooke explains. “And it’s difficult for them to get one started, especially if they don’t have a form of ID, like a driver’s license. It’s just a lot of extra work and stress for them to accept a check.”
She says they can get around this by having the bank that holds inmate funds cash the check. But even that poses a dilemma, as some offenders leave with tens of thousands of dollars — a dangerous amount of cash for anyone to carry on their person.
COMPETITOR CARDS CAUSE FRUSTRATION
The other option, giving offenders an exit debit card, is generally preferable for both administrators and residents alike. But Brooke says working with KDOC’s previous card vendor was “a nightmare.”
Brooke says that her office received frequent calls from former residents complaining that they were unable to activate their cards (each card had to be activated by the user via a phone call to the vendor) or that, even once the cards were activated, the funds still weren’t available.
“They’d be at the grocery store and have to put all their food back because the card wouldn’t work, or they were at a hotel trying to book a room for their first night out and they couldn’t get to any of their money,” Brooke says, adding that she and her team found the experience almost as frustrating as the former residents.
“Something was always going wrong, and we didn’t have a dedicated contact person there, so it was hard for us to resolve anything in a timely manner,” she says.
The vendor also charged KDOC $3.00 per card, a cost that they had to pass along to the residents.
MAKING THE SWITCH TO RELEASEPAY
Brooke had been working in the banking unit for seven years when she was promoted to manager.
“I knew when I was going to oversee the banking unit that I didn’t want to stick with our current vendor,” she says. “That was one of the first things I wanted to change, both for us and for the residents.”
A colleague in Wichita told her they used ReleasePay for their work release program and suggested she consider the product for the KDOC inmate exit payments. After a few initial meetings with the team at Rapid Financial Solutions, they made the switch in 2019.
“I can’t say enough great things about working with Rapid,” Brooke says. “The customer service has been amazing, and our representative is always available to work with my team and myself whenever we have a question or need to make a change to our process.”
She appreciates that Rapid doesn’t charge a per-card fee and says the fact that ReleasePay cards are already activated makes it easier for the former residents and cuts down on the number of calls her office receives from them after release. And Rapid’s customer service makes it easy for users to turn off their cards and freeze their funds should they get lost or stolen.
“It just makes everything easier for the resident,” Brooke says, “I’m happy that I can play even a small part in making release less stressful for them, knowing that when they leave, they don’t have to worry about what to do next. Their money is already right there on the card.”
It’s made life less stressful for Brooke’s team, as well. She says that before switching to Rapid’s ReleasePay system, she would regularly spend two hours per day processing release payments. Now, that time’s been cut down to about half an hour, not to mention the time they save now that they don’t have to field calls from former residents about non-working cards or missing funds.
“We don’t have to worry about it, because we know that residents who have been released are taken care of,” she says. “It’s an awesome partnership.”