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Life Inside Filed 07.07.2015 7:15 a.m.
The ongoing fight for more, and better, prison food.
What’s in a Prison Meal?

Inmates at the Gordon County Jail in Calhoun, Ga. — according to a preliminary investigation by human rights attorneys last fall — are starving. The two meals a day weren't enough to sustain them, and some reportedly resorted to eating toothpaste and toilet paper. Inmates at the Montgomery County Jail in New York alleged that meager portions led to increased violence among the inmates; one inmate lost 90 pounds in less than six months. And a group of prisoners at the Schuylkill County Prison in Pennsylvania filed a federal civil rights lawsuit claiming the portions they received are “not even enough to fill a 5-year-old child.”

Nutritional standards at state and local facilities are governed by a patchwork of state laws, local policies, and court decisions. A Texas law requiring inmates be fed three times in 24 hours, for example, only applies to county jail inmates, not state prisoners. Some jails and prisons require low-fat or low-sodium diets, while others mandate inmates receive a certain number of calories. All detention facilities must have a licensed dietician review their menus in order to be accredited by the American Correctional Association. The association recommends — but does not mandate — that prisons offer inmates three meals a day.

Budget-conscience legislators in a number of states, however, have proposed reducing the minimum number of meals down to two per day, and prison officials are increasingly outsourcing food service to private contractors to slash food costs.

Here, a look at the menus from some facilities at the center of recent lawsuits and inmate complaints. Please note, these meals are recreations, and recreations only, based on the portions described by the food companies and corrections officials accused of skimping.

Gordon County, Georgia
Inmates at Georgia’s Gordon County jail are fed twice a day, about 10 to 14 hours apart. And while the jail maintains they are providing sufficient calories (the recommended daily intake is 2,400-2,800 a day for men, and 1,800-2,000 for women), prisoners said they combated their hunger by licking syrup packets and drinking excessive amounts of water. Many inmates said they lost a substantial amount of weight, according to interviews collected by attorneys from the Southern Center for Human Rights, who raised their concerns in a letter to Sheriff Mitch Ralston last fall. The Center requested that Ralston look into whether the private company supplying jail meals, Trinity Service Group, is violating the food contract. The local newspaper published a menu from one day last October (attorneys, however, claim that prisoners were receiving smaller portions than indicated on the menu).
2,818
calories
per day
$1.77
avg. price
per meal
No lunch is served.

1/2 cup

fruit

juice

1/2 cup

canned

fruit

1 cup

2 percent milk

Coffee

(optional)

NOT PICTURED

Breakfast

3 servings

margarine

1 biscuit and 1 1/2 cups

“country gravy”

1 cup cold cereal and

1 cup 2% milk

1-cup

“vitamin

beverage”

1 slice

of cake

 

2 pieces

of cornbread

 

Dinner

2 servings

margarine

1 cup

of beans

1 1/4 cup

of meat-

fried rice

Breakfast

1/2 cup of fruit juice

1/2 cup of canned fruit

or a piece of fresh fruit

1 cup of cold cereal

1 1/2 cups of “country gravy”

1 biscuit

3 servings of margarine

1 cup of 2 percent milk

Coffee (optional)

Dinner

1 1/4 cups of meat-fried rice

1 cup of beans

2 pieces of cornbread

2 servings of margarine

1 slice of cake

1-cup “vitamin beverage”

Butte-Silver Bow County, Montana
In 2013, the Butte-Silver Bow County jail in Montana switched to a new menu under the direction of Food Services of America. Soon after, a group of ten inmates contacted the local newspaper claiming they were not getting enough to eat. Reporters there found that meals at the jail averaged 2,031 calories per day. “I think (the prisoners) eat better than some of the people on the streets,” jail supervisor Mark Johnson told the newspaper. Here’s a meal from a Sunday menu, the lowest-calorie-day at the jail that week.
1,782
calories
per day
Price not available.

 

8 oz.

2 percent milk

6 oz.

pineapple

juice

 

Coffee

 

Breakfast

3 oz.

scrambled eggs

 

1/2 cup cream

of wheat

1 margarine and 1

slice whole wheat bread

 

 

Coffee

 

 

Coffee

 

1/2 cup chilled

apricots

 

Milk

1 slice

apple cobbler

Milk and

1 margarine

Dinner

Lunch

1 cup tossed salad

1 cup chicken

and dumplings

 

1/2 cup green beans

and 1 slice whole

wheat bread

1/2 cup

mashed

potatoes

3 oz. roast turkey,

poultry gravy and 1/4 cup

cornbread stuffing

Breakfast

6 oz. pineapple juice

1/2 cup cream of wheat

3 oz. scrambled eggs

1 slice whole wheat bread

1 margarine

8 oz. 2% milk

Coffee

Lunch

3 oz. Roast Turkey

with poultry gravy

1/4 cup cornbread stuffing

1/4 cup mashed potatoes

1/2 cup green beans

1 slice whole wheat bread

1 margarine

1 slice apple cobbler

Milk & coffee

Dinner

1 cup chicken and dumplings

1 cup tossed salad

2 oz. Italian dressing

1/2 cup chilled apricots

Milk and coffee

Maricopa County, Arizona
In Arizona’s Maricopa County, Sheriff Joe Arpaio has bragged about his cost-cutting measures, which include removing all meat from the menu (replaced with soy) and only serving meals twice a day. The meals cost between 15 and 40 cents apiece, the “cheapest meals in the U.S.,” according to Arpaio’s official biography. In 2013, Sheriff Arpaio tweeted the cost and calorie count for a special, and more expensive, Thanksgiving meal for inmates.
56¢
avg. price
per meal
Calories not available.

 

1 brownie

 

1 cup

glazed

carrots

1/2 cup

fresh fruit

 

Thanks-

giving

1 margarine

5 oz. turkey soy casserole

and 1 dinner roll

1 cup mashed

potatoes

Thanks-

giving

5 oz. turkey soy casserole

1 cup mashed potatoes

1 cup glazed carrots

1/2 cup fresh fruit

1 brownie

1 dinner roll

margarine

Morgan County, Alabama
In Morgan County, Ala., federal authorities jailed Sheriff Greg Bartlett in 2009 after he admitted to depositing over $200,000 in state money allocated for prison meals into his personal account (in Alabama, sheriffs can keep excess state funds provided to pay for prisoners’ food). Some of the inmates sued, claiming they weren’t being fed adequately, and according to court records, the sheriff admitted he “could double the food portions served to inmates… without significantly increasing his food expenditures.” Court records outlined the “typical” meals that were served during Sheriff Bartlett’s tenure.
58¢
avg. price
per meal
Calories not available.

1 slice of bread

Dinner

Chicken livers, meat patties or two

hot dogs with slaw or onions

Beans or mixed

vegetables

Lunch

Breakfast

Two baloney sandwiches

or two sandwiches with

a dab of peanut butter

 

1 serving of

unsweetened grits

or oatmeal

 

Small bag

of corn chips

Half an

egg or less

1 slice

of bread

 

Breakfast

1 serving of unsweetened

grits or oatmeal

1 slice of bread

half an egg or less

Lunch

two baloney sandwiches or two

sandwiches with dab of peanut butter

Small bag of corn chips

Dinner

Chicken livers, meat

patties or two hot dogs

with slaw or onions

beans or mixed vegetables

1 slice of bread