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Food and Agriculture
By Terry Campbell, Professor, Purdue University Global
Published: 08/22/2016

Farm Our topics this month looks at prison food and agriculture programs. Many states have revised food service goals to include improvements in the quality of foods and to utilize more local foods when applicable. This will be dependent on product costs, location, and shipping costs. Also, many states are looking at more fresh fruits, vegetables, and other healthy food options.

Through various surveys and other research data, you can easily check your state corrections system and see what the cost per day is to feed one inmate. Also, if you are working in the system you have access to this information and in some systems, may eat the same food as the inmates.

Food service provides a service, at least three times daily throughout the year. This does not include any special diets and/or other meals. Our food service workers and officers have a difficult job. Menus are prepared with a dietician and strict guidelines. This includes meal preparation, ensuring there is ample food for all inmates, any special and/or religious diets are met, and in some facilities the baking of break. As soon as a meal is prepared, preparations are already in process for the next meal. This can include, cleaning, sanitation, dishwasher, food, preparation, change of shift, and other duties. The kitchen also provides jobs to inmates and staff.

Some states utilize farming and vegetable gardens. Someone has to pick the food, clean, and deliver to the kitchen for preparation. Security is involved in supervising this work. The inmate population then receives fresh vegetables and other food items to supplement the menu. Some prisons even have their own dairy, cattle and swine operation, raise chickens and horses, row crops and other. This allows the opportunity for those inmates with correct medical classifications to work in these types of programs. Again, security is present to provide supervision and security.

The research I conducted identified six farm to prison local food sourcing programs. The following states were identified in these programs: California (San Diego’s Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility; Vermont Department of Corrections; Montana Women’s Prison, Washington State Department of Corrections; Michigan Department of Corrections; and Oregon State Correctional Institution. This article provides an overview of each systems’ farming programs and includes some interesting statistics to consider.

The State of Florida is utilizing farm programs inside the fences at select facilities. Fresh fruits and vegetables are grown by inmates and used to supplement the food program at these select facilities. Also, within the state are other farm programs at some of the facilities and at University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. Corrections found this beneficial in some inmates learning a ‘skill, and a reduction in inmate idleness.’

While many states are taking advantage of this, the State of Ohio has plans to sell 10 prison farms and land. There are variety of reasons as to why this decision was made.

Several states throughout the south have large prison farms and utilize a large percentage of the inmate population in various work programs. Food is grown, processed, and delivered to the kitchen for preparation and serving. At the same time, the livestock programs and row crops are very beneficial to the agency. These states will have lower costs over all and lower costs per inmate per meal.

Some states even contract their food services programs to private companies. There are several companies who bring to the table many years of service in the food preparation arena. Regardless if a private or state entity, there are federal programs in place that regulate and control the food service areas. The food service program must have trained staff to ensure the meals are properly prepared, served, and are nutritious. At the same time, I need to mention the health, safety, and security concerns. If your facility is American Correctional Association accredited, then you are aware of one section designated for food service. If not, same and/or similar standards are in place per the Department of Health. There are many standards and requirements that must be met. All inmates assigned to food service, must pass a medical examination. Certain illnesses and/or diseases will prohibit some inmates from handling food. This holds true also for officers. Food service at times can be a thankless job where only the ‘negative’ is heard. The next time you see your food service staff, let them know how much they are appreciated for the work they do.

Kitchen staff and security must monitor all kitchen activities continuously in efforts to prevent inmates from tampering with the food. This is a security breech and as you know can result in an inmate being harmed by others. At times we tend to forget if bakeries are used, control and a process in place to monitor the yeast and canned juices. These are prime ingredients for manufacturing home brew or whatever name is used in your state.

We recognize that food service is not going to please everyone. However, the meal should be nutritious, look good, and be flavorful. After working in corrections I found overall the prison meals prepared were not bad. Some were better than others and we actually did not have that many food complaints from the inmate population. The main complaints were if fried chicken was being served and ran out of chicken, then the remaining barrack(s) received hot dogs. I would not be happy about this either.

All too often we forget that for a prison to operate efficiently, be safe and secure, requires all staff/employees must work together as a team. At the end of the shift, the staff wants to go home. I provided you with ample information and additional sites to access. Now you can make the decision as to what type of food services programs are beneficial to your state, in your opinion. Yes, there are many factors to consider and all aspects need to be looked at. If you have some food service stories you would like to share, please contact me at tcampbell@kaplan.edu.

Stay safe out there.

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


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