Longtime Prison Stewardship Vendor Protesting Replacement | Local News


New Mexico Corrections has selected a new supplier to provide police station services to nearly 6,000 inmates in the state’s 11 prisons.

But Keefe Commissary Network, the company that has sold every packet of ramen, pair of nail clippers and sachet of cocoa blend purchased by prisoners in New Mexico since 2014, isn’t ready to go in November, when Union Supply Group should take over. commissary operations.

Keefe – who serves 650,000 inmates in more than a dozen states, according to his website – filed a lawsuit in state district court in September challenging the corrections process for the lucrative contract award. . The company maintains that its application was poorly rated and that it should have ranked first of the four suppliers vying for the position.

Meanwhile, a U.S. District Court judge reviews the trial of a prisoner accusing state prison officers of violating state and federal antitrust laws by allowing Keefe to overcharge inmates and prohibiting them from purchasing products from other suppliers. The lawsuit asks the court to abolish long-term contracts that lead to monopolies in the commissary market.

Carnell Hunnicutt Sr.’s lawsuit – who was filed in state court in December 2020 but has since been transferred to federal court by Keefe – says New Mexico officials know the company charges inmates for prices much higher than market rates – up to 150% more for some products – but allows the practice because the state receives part of the profits from stewardship. He describes Keefe as “a better known corporate prostitute”.

Keefe did not respond to requests for comment.

Corrections raised around $ 1 million in commissioners’ commissions in fiscal 2021, spokesman Eric Harrison said.

Based on a deal that gives the state the power to collect a 32% commission on Keefe’s sales, Keefe may have sold around $ 3 million worth of merchandise to state prisoners this that year.

Keefe charges inmates – some of whom only earn 25 cents an hour for the work – $ 14.27 for an 8-ounce jar of Folgers coffee, which is available from other vendors for $ 5.70, according to the Hunnicutt trial.

Folgers is available on Amazon for $ 4.99.

The price under Union Supply Group would be similar, around $ 14.25, according to a pricing sheet provided by the Correctional Service.

Union Supply did not respond to an email seeking comment.

Keefe also sells music files and electronic devices, some of which are “obsolete in society,” as well as overcharges for these items, according to the Hunnicutt lawsuit. Hunnicutt said he paid $ 89.66 for an MP4 player, which stores electronic video, audio, and image files. Walmart sells such devices for around $ 14.

Prisoners pay around $ 1.90 for each song file, which can be purchased from other vendors for between 60 cents and $ 1.25, according to the lawsuit.

Under his contract, Keefe leases a 15,000 square foot warehouse to the Correctional Service for approximately $ 126,000 per year. Union Supply Group will pay a little more, according to an agreement provided by Harrison, $ 150,000 per year, and it will donate 32.5% of its sales to the department.

According to documents included in Keefe’s call for the tendering process, that company offered to pay the state a 36% commission. The company estimated the state would get an additional $ 632,000 per year at the top rate. The company had also offered to pay $ 138,000 per year for the use of the warehouse.

Keefe was not awarded the contract, the company claims, due to “errors and irregularities” in the correctional service’s procurement process.

“The most glaring and fatal flaw,” says the company’s complaint, is that the department tied Keefe 71 points because its representatives discussed a proposed commission rate during an oral presentation at a evaluation committee. The complaint indicated that the department viewed the reference to the rate as a violation of its proposal review process. The company claims the penalty was unfair, however, as the committee would have already reviewed the full proposal, including the commission rate Keefe was willing to pay, before the presentation.

The deduction was inconsistent with state scoring criteria, according to Keefe, and without the error, the company would have received the highest overall score among the four suppliers that applied.

Harrison declined to comment on Keefe’s or Hunnicutt’s claims, citing the department’s policy against commenting on active litigation.

According to court records, Keefe’s contract with the New Mexico Correctional Service is scheduled to expire on November 23, but the state agency informed the supplier on September 7 that it intends to terminate the contract approximately. three weeks earlier, on November 7, to ensure a smooth transition during the holiday season.

Keefe said in his appeal that the correctional service had not taken action regarding the company’s protest after the award and was trying to “pass the time” on Keefe’s ability to challenge the decision.

The ministry did not respond to the court file.

Katie Hoeppner, spokesperson for the United States Civil Liberties Union in New Mexico, wrote in an email that the group has learned that inmates at a Grants jail fear the change of provider could result in the loss of music and photo files they purchased from Keefe. years.

“Women have spent years and thousands of dollars cultivating digital music collections and photos of loved ones,” Hoeppner wrote.

“The corrections explicitly refuse to guarantee that this media will be preserved,” she added. “People are devastated to lose these photos and this music.”

An inmate expects her tablet to soon become “a very expensive paperweight,” Hoeppner wrote.

But documents included in Keefe’s appeal say the ministry is trying to prevent that from happening.

“When it comes to music players, I would like to work closely with the right people to make sure that inmates with [media] players have the option of extending their tenure to 10 years, as we discussed earlier, “Correctional Industries Director Robert Leon wrote to the company in September,” … especially as the prison population has made these purchases with its own funds. “

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