Inmate meals stay cost-effective by being self-administered

Andy Simmons

February 8, 2014

The Troup County Jail systems’ way of providing meals to its inmates is cost-efficient, officials said, and still nutritious.

The kitchen inside the Troup County Jail is responsible for feeding about 400 inmates per day, which means that meals are carefully articulated to make sure that they are both nutritious and don’t run up the budget.

“We serve around 1,400 meals a day, which is three meals (per inmate),” said Marty Reeves, jail administrator for the Troup County Sheriff’s Office.”They get two hot meals and one sandwich meal, usually at lunch time.”

The food for meals is provided by Valley Food Services, a distributor that delivers the food products to the Troup County Jail. Reeves has devised a system so that the cost per person of each meal is affordable and doesn’t break the bank.

“The cost is $1.08 per meal,” Reeves said. “Every week I get a count and they (Valley Food Services) send me a bill of how much we owe them. I’ll got through it and bust out the calculator.”

Reeves estimates that $40,000 per month is spent on food, which adds up to $480,000 per year. The jail is able to keep the cost of meals per person at $1.08 by providing its own labor, which is where the inmates come into play.

“That’s the reason you can get meals for $1.08 is because of the labor,” Reeves said. “The guys are chosen to work in the kitchen. Some of them do have skills. You have some guys that are really good in the kitchen. A lot of them have restaurant experience.”

Some inmates are selected within the kitchen to prepare the meals. Inmates that work in the kitchen are assigned to different jobs and are only allowed to work in a specific area. If they wonder off to a different area, they may be relieved of doing that job. Those that want to change jobs have to go through the kitchen manager first.

“It takes about 14 to 18 inmates to run the entire kitchen,” Reeves said.

Once they are ready, an assembly line is made to divide up meals evenly onto trays. The trays are packaged and delivered to their respected pods. Trays that are prepared take into account each inmate’s different health-related issues, like diabetes, or religious beliefs, like for those who are Muslim. Different colored trays also indicate where each tray is going within the building.

Melissa Hewitt, kitchen director of the Troup County Jail, oversees the entire operation of meals being prepared within the kitchen and coordinates what will be served each day.

“We have a menu that is statewide corrections that we follow,” said Kasey Dearing of Valley Foods. “There’s four weeks divided up and they (the different meals served) are spread out.”

For special occasions, such as holidays, the menu is a little different.

“We have a menu that’s different (for holidays). They will get special meats ordered in that they don’t get on a regular basis,” Dearing said.

Reeves assured that the cost per meal doesn’t mean they are skimping on nutritional value.

“Within their company, they have a dietitian on staff who plans all of the meals. The meals are actually grouped by a certified dietitian.”

Reeves said that there is never a complaint about the quality of meals, but every once in a while there can be a complaint about how much is served on a tray.

“Most complaints are validated. The most common complaint is usually about portion sizes,” Reeves said. “The officers, however, know to look and see if there’s an ample amount for a grown human being.”

Although there isn’t necessarily a favorite amongst inmates, the most common meal prepared, according to Reeves, are various sandwiches.

“We prepare those seven days a week,” Reeves said. “You may get a PB&J, a turkey, a chicken, et cetera, but they are never the same.”