A data collection program maintained by inmates at the Joseph Harp Correctional Center in Lexington has the potential to be utilized by other state agencies, a state official said.
State Purchasing Director Scott Schlotthauer was impressed with the program and is interested in expanding it, he said in an email obtained through an open records request.
“I would like to discuss how we might utilize that expertise to extend to all DOC units for a centralized managed menu and draw upon a centralized warehouse,” Schlotthauer said in a Jan. 27 email to Tina Hicks, chief of administrative services for the state Corrections Department. “I would also like to discuss the potential of utilizing inmate labor to analyze other contracts and mine for supplier price compliance.”
The program was initially developed by staff at Joseph Harp to monitor inmates during meals. By entering each inmate in a computer system as they receive their food, Corrections Department employees hoped to catch prisoners who were getting back in line and receiving a second meal.
As part of the program, the inmates who maintained it also collected data on food items being delivered to the facility in an effort to understand the scope of possible cost savings. That's when price discrepancies between the same products being delivered to other prisons were discovered.
The discrepancies caused the department to investigate further, and five alleged contract breaches were discovered, causing the state to send a letter to Sysco requiring the Houston-based food distribution company to address the grievances or face a third-party audit or revocation of its state contract.
The state is currently reviewing Sysco's response and has not yet decided how it will proceed.
The program shows potential, and the state Corrections Department is considering the possibility of utilizing it for areas outside of food distribution and purchasing, said department spokesman Jerry Massie. He said aspects of the program have already been implemented at other prisons in Oklahoma.
A recent tour of the Dick Conner Correctional Center in Hominy by The Oklahoman found inmates there are required to electronically check in as they move through the chow line.
Office of Management and Enterprise Services spokesman John Estus said officials are looking into the possibility of using the program to audit other statewide contracts that would benefit from data analysis to ensure that prices are appropriate.
“It's obviously something that our purchasing personnel have expressed an interest in,” Estus said. “Right now they're more interested in addressing the issues with Sysco. At some point in the future they will look at the services inmates can provide.”
“It's certainly an outside-the-box approach, and we're always willing to consider new approaches.”