American Jails Magazine November, 2004 www.aja.org
Personal Property Storage
To the uninformed, the challenge of personal property storage seems like an easy one. We collect the inmate property, store it, and afterward, return it when the inmate is released. Surely, what could be easier? However, those of us who deal with this challenge know that the reality is markedly different than the perception.
Personal Property Storage is complicated
One must consider many factors apart from the sheer amount of property received each day, . Inmates will misrepresent the value of property, for example. We know of other factors like human error, and staff issues. The undeniable fact has always been that property can be, and is, lost or stolen. This fact causes enough uncertainty that every lost property claim must be taken seriously. The results is hundreds of lost man-hours spent investigating lost property claims. The Orient Road Jail, part of the Hillsborough County Jail system in Tampa, Florida, is redefining how jails will store and catalog inmate property. Since putting its innovative new system into use on March 18, 2004, there has not been a single lost property complaint involving the new system.
Lost Property Investigation
An investigation is a time consuming, frustrating job. While the average stay of our inmates is 24 days, some may be incarcerated up to a year or longer. This makes it very hard to trace and reach a definitive answer on any claim. They process 150 inmates a day on average, so it’s impossible for them to remember every piece of property received. What you are left with is basically a case of “he said, she said.” If he or she doesn’t have a receipt for the item, the officer starts contacting local stores. We find out what the product retails for, and so on. Now it becomes a game of “Let’s Make a Deal”. The officer begins negotiating with the inmate for the replacement cost of the item. The result is time and money spent for the investigation of an incident that, real or fraudulent would not have existed otherwise.
Officer Time Wasted
We wasted precious manpower on these duties instead of more productive endeavors. By July of 2003, the problem had gotten bad enough at the Orient Road Jail, Hillsborough County’s main booking facility, that Captain Curtis Flowers set out to find a solution. Captain Flowers estimates that we spent over $60,000 last year investigating and/ or settling lost property claims. Personal property storage was clearly a problem worth addressing. After searching existing methods of property storage, Capt. Flowers became increasingly convinced that no one had yet found a solution. He would need to find one himself. The primary weak point in each system he researched was an intrinsic inability to prove that it had been properly secured the entire time it was in possession of jail staff. Eventually, he contacted a local packaging company for ideas.
The Genesis of an invention
Captain Flowers met with Mike Kelley, a salesman for a local business and discussed several options. Mike showed the Captain an existing type of vacuum packaging used for retail applications. “As soon as I saw it, I knew that our problems were solved”. This meeting led to the development of the Guardian Property and Evidence Packaging System and the beginning of the end of lost property claims. Kelley says of Captain Flowers and the staff at the ORJ “This machine and process would not be possible without the insights and inspiration of the folks at Orient Road, Captain Flowers in particular. He saw the possibilities of applying one of our systems to a new application, and he deserves a lot of credit as an innovator.”
Personal Property Storage Package is born
A finished piece consists of a poster board thickness of paper and a thin film of plastic bonded together. We pack all personal property vacuum packed in between. We bond the paper and plastic, trapping the property. Mike Kelley explains, “The beauty of this system is that it is completely tamper evident. The package must be destroyed to open. There is absolutely no way to open and reseal a package.” Kelley goes on, “We recommend that the arrestee place his signature on the paper sheet before packaging. This seals his signature along with the property. The signature offers the inmate the secure knowledge when his property is returned to him, unopened. It also serves notice to anyone who would make a fraudulent claim that the package hasn’t been opened. Because that can be proved, their con won’t work.
How the Property Machine Works
One makes the Personal Property Storage package using a simple machine. The property room officer places the property onto a 14″ X 16″ paper sheet and sets it on a perforated metal table in the machine. The operator presses start button and a cycle is activated. After heating the plastic, the machine lowers it onto the paper board. Simultaneously, a vacuum sucks the plastic down, stretching it around the property and bonding it to the paper. The operator removes the package from the machine and puts it into storage.
Easy to use
CPI/Guardian made the machine is so easy to use that total training time for the machine was a five-minute seminar. Kelley explains, We have made the machine as simple to use as possible. We have used the Orient Road jail’s experiences with the machine to make improvements to make the machine easier to use. For example, all adjustable controls are behind a locked cabinet. Any adjustments need the approval of the supervisor with a key. The operator now only needs to press a single button and the machine does the rest. After completing its cycle, the machine will rest until that button is pushed again.
New methods for personal property storage
Previously, we at the Orient Road Jail used the standard sealed plastic bag method of storing property. When the arrestee was brought into the main booking area, an officer patted them down and relieved them of their personal property. We packed the property in a plastic bag by means of a bar sealer and temporarily stored. We put the property and clothing in a standard paper shopping bag. The weak point was the lack of a tamper evident system. Paper bags can be opened and re-stapled. While the chances of this happening were small, they were real, and made every lost property claim at least credible enough to warrant an investigation.
A new system is born
After several trials to determine its viability, Captain Flowers purchased two of the machines. He slated one machine for the main booking area and the other for backup. The results have been nothing short of amazing. We think this will revolutionize the way property and evidence is stored. Since we began using the system on March 18, we have not had a single claim filed after the system was used. My day (Clifford Brown) is still 60 percent occupied with investigating lost property claims. However, they involve the property of inmates who were booked before the new system was put into place. We are looking forward to a few months from now when everyone who is released is handed their sealed package, and lost property claims become a thing of the past.
Other Changes Happening
The staff processes in front of the arrestee who then signs an electronic signature pad to signify that the property packaged is the sum of his possessions. We put the signature into the arrestee’s electronic file along with a digital photograph of the property just packaged. I believe that the system protects both parties. We put the inmate at ease, witnessing the process. They know their property is protected and photographed. The combination of photo, electronic signature, and new package has proved so far to be an unbeatable trio. We have seen a dramatic drop-off in the amount of claims filed because the arrestees can see that we are very diligent about cataloging, storing, and protecting their property.
Other inmate property problems to solve
Having started to solve the problem of personal property loss, we are now turning our attention to the problem of clothing and larger property. We are evaluating both a hanging bag type storage system and a box system. We are convinced that it is important to provide a more secure environment for clothing and property. If we can eliminate or at least reduce the amount of time spent on investigations, we can spend our manpower on other, more productive endeavors.
Lt. Clifford Brown Sr. 30-year member of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’., Lt. Brown is in charge of inmate property for the jail system. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Cory Hoover is a packaging specialist for CPI/Guardian Packaging System and can be reached at (800) 299-2596 or at www.propertyandevidence.com We Personal Property Storage