Keefe Created a New Fulfillment Center in Tucson
Prisons are like self-contained cities. They provide everything necessary for the well- being of the offenders they house. That includes: daily meals, clothing, housing, healthcare (medical and psychological, including substance abuse programs), jobs, laundry, educational and training opportunities and countless other services to meet the special needs of offenders. One service that may not immediately come to mind, but is in some ways equally important to some of the others, is the commissary (or offender store).
These types of operations in the country’s prisons and jails generate an estimated $1.6 billion1 in sales each year. Like a third of the state prison systems in the US, the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) contracts with a private company to provide this important service. These companies, with their economies of scale, can often provide these services and products at costs below what self-managed commissaries can.
For the last 13 years, ADC has been working with Keefe Group to run the commissaries in their ten complexes across the state. Each unit in each complex has a commissary managed by a Keefe employee, working with a staff of two to ten offenders (depending on the unit population) to accept offender purchase orders and distribute back to them the items they purchased when they have been delivered.
Until the summer of 2017, all of the Arizona offender orders were sent to a distribution warehouse in California, where they were fulfilled and routed back to the appropriate prison complex in Arizona. But as part of the new, ten-year contract between ADC and Keefe, the latter agreed to create a new fulfillment center in Tucson. Part of the agreement was that the new warehouse be staffed by Arizona Correctional Industries (ACI) offender work crews.
This new warehouse, just seven miles away from the Arizona State Prison Complex – Tucson, is currently managed by the woman who used to run the commissary at that complex, along with eight other Keefe staff. She was accustomed to working with offenders and has adjusted quickly to managing crews of 75 to 80 each day.
In less than a year in operation, this new warehouse has become one of Keefe’s largest and most efficient fulfillment centers. Five distinct operations take place simultaneously throughout the work day:
- One crew of offenders receives deliveries of products from dozens of Keefe’s suppliers. Each type of product is shelved in specific locations in the warehouse. The members of this crew can earn certifications or re-certifications as fork lift drivers that the Keefe managers are qualified to issue.
Some of the unpacked items go directly into the small item shelves set up in a U shape for easy access. The shelves are stocked from the back, while in the front another offender work crew is continuously fulfilling orders.
- This second crew grabs a plastic bag and prints out a coded order list. Each item on the list includes a letter and number designating where on the shelves it can be found. Of course, after a few hours of filling orders, the offenders know where every item can be found.
The Keefe manager has set up goals and targets for production on this fulfillment line. Each offender is tasked with completing 24 orders each hour. If they consistently meet this goal with an accuracy rate of at least 98.5% they get a certificate attesting to their accomplishment. Once a month, the top performing crew member earns a special award. These are tangible recognitions that the offenders can take with them when they are released to show potential employers on the outside their successful work experience.
Each order is carefully inspected by a civilian Keefe staff member, who then generates a label for the order.
- A third crew boxes up, attaches labels and separates the completed orders into lots for delivery to the different complexes across the state.
- A fourth crew handles other types of orders, such as clothing (some of which is made in one of ACI’s three sewing shops), electronics, arts and craft supplies and other approved items that offenders can order. These items are packaged separately for delivery.
- A civilian crew fulfills orders for high-security items, like tobacco products and soaps, that are sealed with tamper-proof tape to insure that all ordered items safely make it to the offender who ordered them.
Once each type of order is packaged and labeled it is moved to the loading area where the orders are segregated into lots for delivery to the different prison complexes. Trucks transport the completed orders daily.
Most weeks these operations go on ten hours a day, Monday through Thursday, with Friday hours more in the 7 to 8 hour range. But at certain times throughout the year, like holidays, there may be a surge in the number of offender orders coming through, forcing Friday’s to also be closer to a ten hour day.
By employing offenders in their commisarries and the new warehouse, Keefe is helping them to learn important soft skills, such as effective communications, customer service and time management; in addition to the certified and technical skills they are learning and teaching to each other. As they learn they are also earning money that they can use to pay restitution, child support and to save for their release. Some of their earnings can also be used to buy products through the commissary in their unit back at the complex.
Luz Elena Carrasco-Casey and Mario Hernandez are two of the ACI security officers who transport the work crew to and from the Keefe warehouse each day help with counts and supervision throughout the work day. They are supervised by Michael McCarville, the Business Development regional manager.
This partnership was announced at the National Correctional Industries Association (NCIA) 2017 Training Conference in Tucson, AZ, last April when Martin Jennen, Vice President for Keefe Group’s SecurePak division, described the new distribution warehouse that would be opened in Tucson.
This great public/private industry partnership provides a needed service to the offenders, while it also creates a unique jobs-skills training opportunity for the offenders working in the commissaries and warehouses.
1. Annual revenue estimates ($1.6 billion) from the Prison Policy Initiative