In a data bulletin released on Thursday, Harmon said, “These contracts have become a newly developed source of revenue for our county jails and are raising a variety of issues for jailers, county governments and our auditors. Our data bulletin, which is not an audit, provides information about the types of communication service contracts at county jails, how they were procured and the financial benefits jails are receiving from communication services vendors.”
Some of the benefits to the jails include commissions, free maintenance, free monitoring and archiving of communications, a technology grant, incentive bonuses, a line of credit and, in some cases, a signing bonus. Not all contracts contain every one of those benefits, according to the data bulletin, but they each contain a commission payable to the jail.
For fiscal year 2020, the most revenue that Kentucky’s county jails reported as receiving from communication services and equipment contracts came from commissions and technology grants. During fiscal year 2020, 75 county jails reported commissions of more than $9.68 million. Additionally, 29 jails received over $1.38 million from technology grants during fiscal year 2020. These technology grant funds were used for a variety of purchases.
Because procurement of these contracts is not addressed in Kentucky statutes, Auditor Harmon’s office says guidance is limited to jailers on communication services and equipment contracts. For example, if a jailer is seeking to award a contract to the best bidder, it is unclear whether that would steer an award toward maximizing revenue for the jail or providing the lowest cost services to inmates, or some balance between those and other potential factors.
“I believe the General Assembly should pass legislation to provide guidance on procuring these contracts, clarify requirements on the use of technology grants and similar funds and, most importantly, ensure full transparency on the reporting of benefits and revenues jails receive from these contracts,” Harmon said. “My office stands ready to work with legislators and be a resource on this topic in the 2022 regular session.”
The data bulletin report, “An Examination of County Jail Communication Services and Equipment Contracts,” can be reviewed on the auditor’s website.