A convicted murderer and a sex offender have put the time they’re serving time in an Oklahoma prison to good use, developing software that could save the system millions of dollars.
According to The Oklahoman, the data collection software developed by three inmates at Joseph Harp Correctional Center – the crime committed by the the third inmate was not reported — helped officers catch prisoners in the mess hall hopping back in line to snag a second meal.
At the Lexington, Okla., facility , the system, which is maintained by inmates, has been in place for two years, but state lawmakers said if other facilities begin to use it, it could save the state up to $20 million.
“We utilize our prisoners for physical labor jobs, and it just so happens some of our prisoners have a skill set other than physical labor,” Republican state Rep. Scott Martin said. “Where it makes sense is that we should use that to our advantage.”
The Washington Post reported that the system tracks the popularity of meals and has been expanded to also track tools inmates check out to perform their jobs around the prison.
“It’s a pretty neat program. It’s all done by the direction of the supervisor, one of these guys who’s kind of, what do you call it, thinking outside the box,” Republican Rep. Bobby Cleveland told the Post.
In addition to pegging inmates who try to get more food than they’re allotted, the system has also detected price differences being charged to different facilities by the same food vendor, Sysco.
President of Sysco’s Oklahoma facility, Leonard Hymel, said this price fluctuation could be the result of the market. For example, buying apples at the beginning of the week could differ from the end of the week.
“Our prices change,” Hymel told The Oklahoman. “We purchase weekly, sometimes multiple times a week depending on the product, and that can be different due to marketing conditions.”
Still, the lawmakers believe that tracking some purchasing among different facilities could result in savings.
But there are also some concerns about software developed and run by inmates.
“It would be so easy for inmates who are savvy to build backdoors, even if the code is audited after it is deployed, if it is inmate-maintained,” Republican Rep. Jason Murphey told the Oklahoman, noting that proper safeguards and checks would need to be ensured for more widespread use of the system.
“They built a system that could save the state millions of dollars. I want to get the state using this thing,” Cleveland said, according to the Post.