WARREN, Maine — In Maine, when prisoners reach for their favorite treat, it’s not a Snickers. It’s a protein-rich Slim-Fast shake.
Now those incarcerated Maine weight lifters and weight watchers can buy their Slim-Fast faster because the Maine Department of Corrections recently implemented a system that allows families and friends to send money to prisoners electronically.
The Maine Department of Corrections and the state’s public-private partnership for Internet services, InforME, recently won an award for the online money deposit service.
The process used to take days of prison staff time: to receive checks in the mail for the prisoners, bring them to the bank, make sure they clear and then enter the money into the computer system. Now a few clicks by a family member online and the money is in the prisoner’s account immediately.
Last month, the department was given the Best Fit Integrator Award from the Center for Digital Government, a national research organization.
“Before, it was an inconvenience for the family member to send money,” said Chris Oberg, IT project manager for the Department of Corrections, who helped develop the online money deposit service. “What we wanted to do was give them another option to make a payment through a newer technological platform. Everyone has a debit card or credit card these days.”
Since the Maine Department of Corrections started using the system in December 2010, it hasn’t seen any major changes to how much money prisoners have or what they buy.
Irish Spring soap (green, not blue) is one of the hottest selling items. So are shirts, deodorants and fabric softeners — all of which are basic items prisoners are supplied with for free by the prison. But the prison gives generic fabric softener — not the same fragrance as the liquid Snuggle in the canteen.
“It gives them somebody to be. What kind of sneaker you wear is part of their identity,” said Darrell Curtis, the canteen manager of the prison in Warren.
The guy using Snuggle fabric softener smells different than most of the other guys in his cell block.
“I think the canteen makes a difference in these guy’s lives,” Curtis said.