The commission rate paid to Lancaster County from revenue generated at its prison commissary is going from one of the highest around to one of the lowest.
On Wednesday, the commissioners authorized a contract with Oasis Management Systems to operate the commissary. The arrangement calls for a commission of 37% on net sales, down from 45.65%, a reduction of nearly one-fifth.
The move puts the county’s rate at the low end of the range it found in a survey of peer facilities in Pennsylvania, whose rates varied from 37% to 45%.
Activist Kent Kroehler has been pushing the county to reduce or eliminate the commission, making the case at recent Prison Board meetings that it’s burdensome to the majority of inmates, who have limited financial means.
Commissioner Josh Parsons said he had no objection to reducing the county’s rate somewhat. He and Commissioner Ray D’Agostino said it’s not inappropriate for some level of revenue to be returned to the county to help offset prison costs.
On Tuesday, D’Agostino said he reviewed the commissary’s prices and discovered they are generally the same as or lower than local retail prices, even with the 45.65% commission.
Oasis had provided the county three rate options: 35%, 40% and 45%. Neither Parsons nor D’Agostino were in favor of going below 37%. Commissioner John Trescot said he’d prefer the 35% rate, but that he didn’t object to a compromise.
Noting that the majority of county prison inmates haven’t been convicted, and that the account funded by the commission currently has an accumulated balance of nearly $1.8 million, Trescot suggested the county and prison administrations take a hard look at how to use that revenue stream more effectively on inmates’ behalf.
All 67 Pennsylvania counties receive commissary commissions, Warden Cheryl Steberger noted. The county prison provides commissary hygiene and sanitary items to indigent inmates who can’t otherwise afford them.
The Oasis contract is for four years, beginning Friday, with an option to extend another three years. It increases from $50 to $100 the per-order limit on web-based orders, which friends and family can use to buy commissary items for their imprisoned loved ones.
At 40%, on of the three rates Oasis had proposed, the county was projected to receive about $375,000 from the commission in the next contract year, Purchasing Director Linda Schreiner said.
Extrapolating from Oasis’ 35% and 40% proposals, the cost of almost all commissary items over the next 12 months should remain unchanged at the 37% rate, she said, with any increases amounting to only a few pennies at most.