American prisons save money by serving less food to inmates

Prisons in some American states are taking advice to tighten their belts literally by slimming down the amount of food they serve to inmates.

Prisons in some American states are taking advice to tighten their belts literally by slimming down the amount of food they serve to inmates.

Prisoners in Georgia are now going without lunch three days in a row — the Department of Corrections recently eliminated midday meals on Fridays in addition to weekends.

Ohio is also considering two-meal weekend menus by serving brunch instead of breakfast. And other states are cutting back on the amount of milk and fresh fruit prisoners get.

Prison officials in Georgia say inmates are still getting enough to eat because portions are bigger on two-meal days.

But Barbara Helie said if she didn't give her 25-year-old son $60 a week to buy extra food from Georgia's Valdosta State Prison commissary, he would go hungry.

Sample Georgia prison menu

   Breakfast:    scrambled eggs,    grits,    corn muffins,    bran cereal,    pineapple beverage,    margarine,    coffee,    milk       Dinner:    chicken and biscuits,    turnip greens,    tossed salad,    vinegar and oil dressing,    mashed potatoes,    spice cake,    iced tea    

Source: Georgia Department of Corrections

"I don't know how the guys who don't have someone on the outside helping out handle it," Helie said. "Food has been an ongoing issue for him.... He's hungry a lot."

The decision to eliminate Friday lunches in Georgia is linked to another cost-cutting measure. To save on gas, the Department of Corrections changed the prisoners' workweek from five eight-hour days to four 10-hour days.

Inmates got less food on weekends because they weren't exerting themselves working, said Calvin Brown, the deputy director of facility operations at the Georgia Department of Corrections. Now that inmates don't work on Fridays either, it makes sense to cut lunch on that day, too, he said.

About five per cent of Georgia prisoners still get three meals a day because of special dietary needs from conditions like diabetes.

Critics say the cutbacks could lead to food hoarding and violence.

Gordon Crews, a professor at Marshall University in West Virginia, wrote a book on violence in correctional systems.

Link to violence

Food has been linked to prison violence in the past, he said. He cited the example of a riot at the Reeves County Detention Centre in Texas that was partly caused by poor quality food.

Data obtained by The Associated Press through an open records request show that inmate assaults in Georgia have increased substantially this fiscal year. Prison officials denied the rise in violence is linked to cuts in food.

Prison administrators have seen inmate populations go up while budgets go down. The state of Georgia cut 10 per cent from the Department of Correction's $1.1-billion budget this fiscal year. Food has been identified as an area where they can save money.

Ohio prisons director Terry Collins said replacing breakfast with brunch on weekends "could save us some real dollars when it comes to staffing and food costs." He said he doesn't expect prisoners will be upset because the meals will be of the same quality.

"I don't expect them to be as good as mom's home cooking," he said. "But the food should be cooked and presented properly."