North Carolina Department of Correction news release

MARCH 2, 1998

Cashless canteen program expanded

Gambling, extortion and bribery have become nothing more than faded memories for inmates housed in several North Carolina prisons. With the expansion of the Department of Correction’s cashless canteen program to include 13 prisons, such pastimes are becoming much more difficult to pull off.

"The cashless system removes cash from the inmate population, allowing the department to control what the inmates spend their money on," said Scott Pierce, a computer consultant with DOC who heads up the cashless program. "Prior to this system, inmates could draw $35 cash out of their accounts each week and save it rather than spending it. This was evidenced in shakedowns where officers found inmates with thousands of dollars."

Now instead of cash, inmates at the 13 prisons use their ID cards to purchase toiletries, cigarettes and snacks from the prison canteens. Each inmate’s account number is encoded on a magnetic strip on the back of the card. Inmates are allowed to have up to $35 in their accounts at any given time. Each week, enough money is transferred from the inmates’ trust funds to the ID cards to bring the total back up to $35.

"It’s a custody issue," Pierce said. "Money is power, so by removing cash from the inmate population, we are eliminating a number of potential problems."

Problems such as extortion and gambling. "Without cash, inmates may be able to muscle another inmate into buying them a candy bar, but they can’t get any money from them," said Jim Orwin, administrative officer at Polk Youth Institution. "And it’s difficult to gamble except for cokes and cigarettes. Before, inmates could have a pool where everyone would put in a dollar and then one inmate would end up with several hundred dollars."

In addition, Orwin said the cashless system also greatly reduces the chances that an inmate will try to bribe employees or visitors. "The cashless system really complicates any attempts of bribery. Without money, the inmates have no way of paying people off," he said.

The cashless system was first implemented at Polk Youth Institution in 1991. Columbus Correctional Center and Brown Creek Correctional Institution became cashless in 1992; Pender Correctional Institution, Nash Correctional Institution, Foothills Correctional Institution and Western Youth Institution in 1993; Lumberton Correctional Institution in 1994; Marion Correctional Institution in 1995; Pasquotank Correctional Institution in 1996; and Hyde Correctional Institution, Craven Correctional Center and Warren Correctional Institution in 1997.

Pierce said converting the entire prison system to cashless will be a gradual process. Any new prisons constructed will be cashless facilities, while existing facilities will be converted on a prioritized basis. Pierce said existing facilities must be equipped with new cables, and they must purchase and install the necessary computer equipment and software before they can be converted to cashless.

"This program is in its infancy," Pierce said. "We hope to expand it even more as soon as its logistically feasible."