Prisons cut lunch on weekends
States prisons cut lunches weekends, In Bid to Cut Costs at Some Texas Prisons, Lunch Will Not Be Served on Weekends. Texas prison officials last month ended the decades-old practice of serving last meals to inmates about to be executed after one man ordered an elaborate feast of hamburgers, pizza and chicken-fried steaks that he did not eat. But the 300 inmates on death row are not the only ones coping with food restrictions.
Thousands of other inmates in the Texas prison system have been eating fewer meals since April after officials stopped serving lunch on the weekends in some prisons as a way to cut food-service costs. About 23,000 inmates in 36 prisons are eating two meals a day on Saturdays and Sundays instead of three. A meal the system calls brunch is usually served between 5 and 7 a.m., followed by dinner between 4 and 6:30 p.m. The meal reductions are part of an effort to trim $2.8 million in food-related expenses from the 2011 fiscal year budget of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, the state prison agency. Other cuts the agency has made to its food service include replacing carton milk with powdered milk and using sliced bread instead of hamburger and hot dog buns.
Prison administrators said that the cuts were made in response to the state’s multibillion-dollar budget shortfall in 2011, and that the weekend lunches were eliminated in consultation with the agency’s health officials and dietitians. Michelle Lyons, an agency spokeswoman, said that inmates with health problems who have been prescribed a therapeutic diet continue to receive three meals per day.
By reducing its weekend meals, Texas has set itself apart from most other state prison systems. State inmates in New York, California, Nevada, Florida and several other states are fed three times a day, seven days a week. Federal prisoners receive three meals daily, as do inmates in the county jails throughout Texas. Most states serve their inmates milk in cartons, but Texas prison officials said switching to powdered milk would save them an estimated $3.5 million annually.
Ohio and Arizona serve two meals per day on the weekends to reduce food-service costs. Georgia serves two meals per day on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, though inmates on work details receive a third meal.
Inmates’ relatives and legal advocates in Texas said the elimination of milk in cartons and weekend lunches was an unnecessarily harsh cutback that had a negative effect on prison life. In August, 19 inmates at the Hutchins State Jail near Dallas, one of the 36 prisons that reduced weekend meals, signed a petition and sent it to the Texas affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union, calling the food cutbacks a violation of the federal Constitution.
“I think it’s really easy to take things away from inmates,” said Susan Fenner, executive director of the Texas Inmate Families Association. “One inmate told me, for some of them, that’s all they have to look forward to is a meal.”
Inmates are allowed to purchase chips and other snacks from prison commissaries. In prisons that have cut back on weekend meals, food from the commissaries has taken on a new significance. Prisoners’ relatives said the meal reductions affect low-income inmates the most, because their families cannot afford to send money to keep them supplied with commissary snacks.
The weekend meal reduction appears to be out of step with the standards adopted by the American Correctional Association. In adult prisons, the association recommends serving three meals per day. Variations are allowed based on weekend and holiday food-service demands as long as the meals meet basic nutritional goals, but the standards do not state that the variations can be done every weekend or as a cost-cutting measure.
Daron Hall, the sheriff of Davidson County in Tennessee and the president of the American Correctional Association, said Texas prison officials had adopted a loose interpretation of the food-service standards and needed to monitor the impact of the reductions on inmates. “I’ve never read the standard to mean you can do it every weekend,” Sheriff Hall said. “In the economic climate we’re in, you’re asked to do some creative and inventive things. You have to balance that with the safety and welfare of inmates in the facilities.”
Prisoners’ rights advocates said that serving inmates fewer than three meals a day falls into a legal gray zone based on various cases around the country. In Texas, a state law requires inmates to be fed “three times in any 24-hour period,” but the law applies only to county inmates and not to state prisoners.
“We’re beginning to see this more frequently, as states and counties begin to cut back on food in a short-sighted attempt to cut costs,” said David C. Fathi, director of the A.C.L.U.’s National Prison Project in Washington. “This is not something the Supreme Court has addressed.”
Texas prison officials said they have no legal concerns about the food cutbacks, believe that they are in compliance with the correctional association standards and stress that inmates have not reported health problems stemming from the meal reductions. “Extensive consultation with T.D.C.J.’s health services department and system dieticians prior to implementation of this plan have allowed us to avoid any medical issues,” Ms. Lyons said in a statement. texas prisons cut lunch, states prisons cut lunches weekends, texas ends death row meal,
State Senator John Whitmire, a Democrat and chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee whose outrage over last meals on death row led to the end of the practice last month, said the reductions were not a major concern to him. “If they don’t like the menu,” he said, “don’t come there in the first place.”