VICE, one of the few news sites that is unbiased and that actually does investigative journalism regularly, has been spending the last week reporting on jail and prison conditions in the United States. They just wrote an article detailing the sorry state of food service in Michigan’s jails, and since I am uniquely qualified to talk about this (as I have been in those jails myself, and have experience with Aramark and union food services as well), I decided to debunk some common arguments made against giving inmates proper meals.
They are in jail, my taxpaying dollars shouldn’t pay for them to get good food. If they wanted better meals, then they shouldn’t have gotten locked up!
First off, for those who are unaware, any inmate in Michigan who isn’t considered indigent (poor) is required to pay restitution for their jail stay. When I was last locked up (well over a decade ago), the cost was $60/day. Hell, you can get a room at the Motel 6 for cheaper than that. One of the correction officers working the intake desk even had the nerve to tell me that “hey, you’ve got a job, so you can afford to pay us back!” And I told him, “Well, I USED to have a job, until I ended up here! Sorry, but my employer doesn’t have ‘jail leave’!” I can only imagine how much it costs now…
Secondly, if you are so concerned about taxpaying dollars, shouldn’t you be concerned about how those monies are spent? Shouldn’t your hard-earned money be spent toward something that is productive, and makes sense? Ever since Michigan decided to privatize their food services in their correctional system, hundreds of thousands of dollars have been taken from taxpayers to compensate for cost overruns and fines due to incompetence. As is mostly the case, privatization may save money in the short term, but will almost always cost more in the long run.
Inmates shouldn’t get special treatment, they are there to get punished! Give them bread and water, and tell them to shut the hell up!
Are correctional facilities supposed to rehabilitate, or are they supposed to be strictly punitive? Anybody who oversees these facilities will tell you (at least in public) that they are made to rehabilitate. The fact that inmates have limited access to high school and college classes is but one example. But one of the most important things for inmates, period, is the food. Inmates don’t have much to look forward to, and a decent meal is something that can boost morale and help to keep them out of trouble. Most riots are usually predicated on inmate mistreatment, and poor quality food or lack of food is always a main factor. Hey, you want inmates to behave? Give them decent meals, and I will bet you that those inmates will be as well behaved as John Boehner was when he met the Pope.
It costs too much to feed these inmates as it is, we can’t afford to give them better meals.
As of right now, it costs a little over $2 per day to feed each inmate. Multiply that by the number of inmates, for hypothetical purposes we will say 500. Which brings us to a $1,000 per day cost to make 3 meals. Hell, I could go to Costco and feed 500 people three tasty and nutritious meals for $1,000 EASILY. I have over 10 years of experience in high-level institutional food service, where I was responsible for feeding approximately 800 per meal. Our per person cost was around a dollar per meal, and we were able to feed people some tasty stuff. It wasn’t steak and lobster (as it shouldn’t be), but I made things such as chef salads, shepherd’s pie, chicken enchiladas, beef stroganoff, apple crisps, etc. We had a three-week rotation, meaning that the menu would rotate every three weeks. People, it’s not rocket science: if you have access to fresh wholesale food, and take pride in the preparation in it, you can make some decent meals.
Aramark is a special breed of stupid, however. I work at the largest employer in southeast Michigan, and they use Aramark for staff and visitor food services, while thankfully (so far) retaining union employees for hospital food services. Even the average meal in the cafeteria (let’s say a hamburger and french fries) became considerably more expensive after the transition to Aramark. I used to be able to buy a burger and fries for $4.50, now it costs close to $7. Of course, I refuse to patronize Aramark if I can help it, and have no problem walking a mile or so to get a cheaper and better meal.
As is most things in life, this ultimately boils down to money. For instance, how do you think that contraband such as drugs get smuggled into jail? The only feasible way for things to get smuggled in nowadays is by corrupt correctional officers, many of whom make salaries of less than $40,000 a year. Which brings me to another idea: pay the CO’s more, and guess what would happen? Less contraband, less instances of correctional officers beating up inmates for no reason, and better officer morale. Man, this common sense thing is easy, they should make ME a warden!
Even if you feel that we shouldn’t give “special treatment” to inmates (and if you consider decent meals that have the federally approved caloric and nutritive content to be special treatment), then you really can’t argue with me that using private contractors to feed inmates maggot-infested mystery meat is going to save taxpayers dollars in the long run, rather than using union employees that do the job right THE FIRST TIME, and not leave correctional facilities exposed to lawsuits and accusations of mistreatment.
As Jay-Z once famously said, “Men lie, women lie, but numbers don’t lie”.