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A former Grant County Detention Center library has been transformed into a store where inmates can purchase everything from Slush Puppy drinks and snacks to toiletries and 15-inch digital TVs.
The Grant County Detention Center Canteen opened Feb. 25 to the delight of many inmates.
“I’m like a kid in a candy store,” said one inmate as he filled up his bag.
The canteen is the first of its kind in a detention center in Kentucky, said Jailer Terry Peeples.
Peeples is quick to be point out that the purpose of the canteen is not to make life easier for those incarcerated.
“This is not set up to coddle inmates,” he said. “This is to use as a motivational tool for them to behave themselves. If I have to discipline them, this is the first to go. Also, it’s to make the jail money.”
Walking through the aisles of the canteen is no different than shopping at a local gas station or convenience store.
Potato chips, candy, donuts and other food items line the aisles while T-shirts, underwear and socks are also available.
Along with the Slush Puppy machine, the store has a coffee maker, cappuccino machine, a popcorn popper and a hot dog warmer, all of which were provided free from vendors.
“It’s all approved by the Department of Corrections of what they can have,” said Chief Deputy Dennis Bailey, who came up with the idea for the canteen. “They can’t have any glass. So, it’s all plastics where they can’t hurt themselves.”
Bailey said he got the idea from the prison system.
“In the prison, they would walk in the door and (the store) would be screened off and a window would be there,” he said. “The inmates would be able to see it all, but they would have to point out what they want to trustees and they would bring it to them. We’re actually trusting them more than the prisons would.”
Some shelving, as well as utilities, were installed through inmate labor.
Artwork decorating the walls, including a picture of TV’s Dog the Bounty Hunter behind bars, was created by inmate Virgil Evans.
Three inmates at a time are allowed in the canteen, which is run by two trustee inmates with deputy supervision.
Inmates can visit the store three times a week during recreational time.
When they have chosen their items, a worker will scan the inmate’s armband, which will bring up their account on the computer. The money spent will then be deducted from the account.
A surveillance camera is set up to monitor those in the store and inmates will be subject to a pat down before and after they enter.
Deputies, especially those who work the night shift, also will benefit from shopping at the canteen, said Peeples.
Previously, the jail ordered inmate-requested commissary from a company that would ship it to the detention center.
The truck would have to be unloaded, boxes would have to be opened and products would have to be taken to each cell in individual bags.
“It was very time consuming,” Peeples said. “And, we didn’t have control over the weather. Trucks could be late. We’d get two shipments at one time. It was really a mess.”
The vending company also kept 74 percent of all profits, leaving only 26 percent of returns going to the jail, said Peeples.
“From a business standpoint, that just doesn’t make any sense,” he said. “So, we thought, ‘why don’t we just do it ourselves and open up our own commissary?’”
The jail spent about $8,000 to stock the canteen and estimates a 55-percent profit margin with the new system.
Peeples anticipates the detention center’s commissary fund will triple in the next year.
While he wishes the extra revenue could go toward the jail’s general fund budget, state law mandates that money be used for inmate programs, including buying work equipment for Class D inmates.
Even though the canteen just opened, Peeples has high hopes that it will be an asset to the detention center.
“We are confident that it will be a big success,” he said. “We kind of have a cornered market.”