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Food and Agriculture
By Terry Campbell, Professor, Purdue University Global
Published: 10/19/2015

Garlic ginger pepper Hello and welcome to this month’s topics: Food and Agriculture. As many of you know, food served in the facilities can produce both positive and negative results. Positive results occur when food served at all meals is nutritious, looks edible, smells and tastes good. The opposite occurs when the food is bad, food service runs out of particular items, inmates are throwing away more food then they consume, increase in complaints and grievances against food service, and this can then lead to safety and security concerns within the prison.

If a facility wants to have safety and security concerns, serve several bad meals. The inmates will be quick to point this out. Also, in some facilities staff and officers often eat the same food as inmates and complaints are also received. Food service in a correctional setting is a difficult task itself. Trying to prepare a meal, meet all dietary concerns, provide a quality meal, and meet any religious concerns, can pose problems. At times, this is easier said than done at times.

Certain meals will be more desirable than others. An example of this is fried chicken. When I worked in corrections, we would have extra staff; uniform and non-uniform available to watch as chicken was removed from the fryers and then moved to a secure location prior to serving. The last thing facilities want to occur is to run out of chicken and not all inmates are fed the same. Security plays an important role by ensuring inmates are not doubling back in the serving lines, assist in getting inmates in and out of the dining hall, and to make sure no areas become congested.

Food service will also make several trays from each meal and label them, then store in refrigeration. This will ensure if food poisoning occurs, samples are available for testing. I mentioned earlier religious concerns. Certain religions prohibit the eating of pork. In these documented cases, a pork substitute will be provided. One would think this is simple, not always the case. The next time you need something to do, check your food products at home and read the label contents to see if any pork products are added. Along with religion we see a variety of special diets ordered by medical. (Sodium free diets, designated number of calories, no fried foods, child nutrition concerns, etc.). Besides all of this we have to look at portion sizes, meal costs, and special meals served during holidays.

Some other security concerns associated with food service are counting the number of utensils after each meal, if metal spoons are used, these are counted as well. Many facilities use disposable spoons. We also have to consider the inmate food service workers. What is their medical condition? Certain conditions will prevent them from being around the preparation of food. If bread is baked at the facility, there are concerns with the yeast products. This as well as other items from food service can be used to manufacture a home-brew alcohol product.

Some states benefit from the use of agriculture programs and gardens. Vegetables are plentiful at times and can be served fresh. This enhances the meal and if cucumbers, tomatoes, and other items are available are always a plus on the food line. There are some states that entered vegetable gardening and processing to ensure their per meal food costs are decreased. The vegetable processing allows for frozen processed vegetables to be served throughout the winter months, when fresh produce is not readily available.

Agriculture can include the following operations; row crops; vegetables; growing of animal feed to be used in raising cattle, chicken, pork and horses; eggs; in some cases slaughter house use; and farm equipment service and repair. There are certainly other areas as well, I just selected a few. These programs also allow for those inmates eligible to work and get some fresh air. As you know, many offenders do not have any job skills and this is one way to accomplish this. At the same time some offenders bring specific skills to the facility and these can be utilized.

Something states have to consider; if they have agriculture programs and used inmate labor there are security, safety, medical, and other concerns. The other concerns can include; facilities must ensure the labor is trained, has appropriate clothing including foot wear, be aware of the temperatures and wet bulb readings, ensure water is available for consumption, if the temperature is falling, are the inmates properly clothed. What are local weather conditions? Some examples: rain, wind, storms, a combination, and other. What do the federal courts allow as far as working inmates outside in weather conditions?

In addition to the agriculture programs, some prisons offer vocational training in some specific areas and also in those agriculture programs. Recent surveys reflect that prison costs are continuing to escalate and some states have reached the billion dollar status. This includes several billion dollars a year earmarked just for state corrections. (Some states). As you can imagine, this is creating some real hardships for many states to control costs. Some states have gone to brunch buffet style meals. Also, some private companies are involved with the preparation of meals for facilities. In addition, some states have surveyed inmates, staff, and officers to obtain feedback on meals.

Food service is a necessity and costs are a concern. Trying to meet all of the dietary concerns is also challenging. Prisons have done a very good job of providing well-balanced meals and meeting food management requirements. At the same time, prisons had their share of litigation. Some cases have been won while others have been lost. We learn from this and strive to meet court rulings and industry standards. Staff and inmates working in food service must ensure sanitary conditions are met on a daily basis. Sometimes I think we forget just how much work goes into preparing a meal. As soon as a meal is completed, cleanup begins along with preparation for the next meal. An additional area to consider are those facilities with administrative segregation of some type of lock up where food is prepared in Styrofoam trays and delivered to individual cells. So the next time you see food service, give them a pat on the back and a few words of encouragement.

Terry Campbell is a criminal justice professor at Kaplan University, School of Public Safety and has more than 20 years of experience in corrections and policing. He has served in various roles, including prison warden and parole administrator, for the Arkansas Department of Corrections. Terry may be reached at tcampbell@kaplan.edu.

Other articles by Campbell

Stay safe out there.


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