When Florida made the commitment to remove cash from its 75,000+ inmate population, but still allow canteen purchases of food, tobacco, hygiene and other products, it presented a unique challenge to the state's Department of Corrections, Bureau of MIS staff. With 55 major correctional institutions located throughout the state, and an average of six canteens per institution, the department decided to distribute the computing load of banking, inmate account control, and "cashless" point of sale on to DEC VAX and Alpha platforms running OpenVMS at each institution.

To accomplish this goal, each inmate is issued a color photo ID card

that contains an infrared-masked bar code. With this ID, the inmate has access to $45 of his or her money, which is earned in prison jobs or sent in from relatives. Since most inmates are imprisoned on compounds as opposed to cells, purchases are made at a canteen window from an inmate operator. The inmate passes his or her ID card through the window where the canteen operator slides the card through an infrared bar code slot reader. Once the card is read, the inmate's account is opened. The operator then picks the items called out by the inmate and scans the UPC bar code on the products. When the inmate's order is complete (or the inmate runs out of funds), the account is closed and a receipt is printed.


A unique challenge arose when it became time to automate the canteen function at the Florida State Prison and the 360-cell death row building at Union Correctional Institution. Inmates in these locations are not allowed free movement on a compound because of their dangerous behavior. However, by law, the Department of Corrections must provide canteen services to these 1,200 to 1,500 inmates. Under the manual system it took up to two weeks to fill an inmate order, since the process was very labor-intensive.

To realize a significant time and cost savings, the department designed a system based around three constraints: (1) It is impractical to bring any of these potentially dangerous inmates to the point-of-sale terminal, (2) the inmate's photo ID card is never to be removed from the presence of the inmate, and (3) realtime database updates were needed for inventory and account balances. With these requirements identified, the department made the commitment to utilize radio-frequency data communications (RF/DC) terminals by Teklogix.

With an RF/DC terminal in hand, an inmate operator walks to each cell, scans the inmate's ID card with an infrared bar code pen to open the account, and then scans each four-digit bar code selected from a sheet of about 160 bar codes with item descriptions. A space is provided next to the bar code for the inmate to write in the quantity of each item desired.

Once an item's bar code is scanned, the operator then scans a quantity bar code and repeats the item/quantity scans until the inmate's order is complete. Data returned after each item/quantity scan includes the running account balance, running order total with tax, and last item and quantity ordered. A typical confinement order contains 15 to 20 items and orders are taken about once a week.

Additional RF/DC terminal screens allow for corrections to an order, reviewing of the order prior to order completion, or deleting an order. Once the order has been completed, a receipt -- which serves as a pick ticket -- is printed in the canteen pick area. Items are bagged by canteen workers and the receipt is attached to the bag and stapled shut. At this point, runners carry the bags to the inmate's cell where the contents are checked against the receipt while in the presence of the inmate.


Quick and accurate canteen order processing keeps inmates from becoming restless, which in turn reduces any potential confrontations with correctional