$1.92: Cost of serving three jailhouse meals a day in Highlands
Pallavi Agarwal | Highlands TodaySEBRING - Debra Mavis watched as a group of inmates quickly loaded salad, sliced carrots, bologna, bread and half an orange on trays for lunchtime Wednesday at the Highlands County Jail.
Published: January 17, 2013
Published: January 17, 2013
Another inmate kneaded biscuit dough and placed dough balls on baking trays for breakfast the following day.
In a few minutes, the last of the 400-odd food trays were loaded on carts and taken to the jail cells. The clanking sounds ended and the kitchen help, the majority of whom were inmate workers, gathered together for their own lunch.
This week, the state announced it will again serve kosher meals to prison inmates after more than five years without them.
It comes five months after the federal government sued the state, saying the lack of kosher meals forced inmates to violate their core religious beliefs each day.
Many Muslim inmates had also relied on the kosher meals because the state doesn't offer halal food to prisoners. When corrections officials ended the kosher meals in 2007 they cited cost and said it would be unfair to satisfy some religious preferences and not others.
At the county jail, special trays are served to inmates with "bonafide religious" or medical needs, such as diabetes, said Detention Commander Maj. David Paeplow, with the Highlands County Sheriff's Office.
"Outside of that, everybody gets the same food," he said.
Every day, the county jail kitchen staff has to prepare roughly 1,200 meals, or three meals for an average 400 prisoners.
While cook supervisors such as Mavis are paid employees, minimum security inmates help, and, in return, don't have to pay the $2 per diem the jail charges and earn "gain time" or credit toward their jail time.
That benefit helps to keep them in line, Paeplow said. Plus, all sharp objects such as knives in the kitchen are kept tethered to prevent any incidents.
Mavis, who has worked in other kitchens, described her job at the sheriff's detention center as the "easiest" she has had.
Her primary responsibility is to keep an eye on the inmates who do the work, she said, and, for most part, does not encounter any trouble.
Wednesday, Mavis started her work day at 3 a.m. and was expecting to get done at around 11:30 a.m. A second shift helps with the dinner, and kitchen duties end at around 7 p.m. every day.
While inmates get everything from bologna sandwiches to rice, dried beans and casserole, the big favorites are pancakes, chicken patties and hamburgers, she said.
Technically, the per diem charges inmates are assessed are supposed to cover their daily expenses such as meal costs, but figures Paeplow shared show that the county is able to recover only a part of it.
In addition to the $2 per diem fee, every inmate is charged a $20 initial fee. The jail also charges inmates for any expenses it incurs for their medical treatments.
From October to December last year, inmates were charged $167,238 for medical expenses but the county received only 5 percent or $9,026. Of the $57,976 per diem that was assessed, the county recovered 28 percent or $16,448.
In the three-month period, the county collected only $8,220 of the $20,026 it assessed inmates for the $20 initial fee.
If money is found on an inmate's person when he or she is booked, it is deposited in the inmate banking system and covers any of these expenses, Paeplow explained.
The debt is retained for three years and rolls over if the inmate returns to jail.
After the three years is up, the board of county commissioners decides what to do with the "negative balance," Paeplow said.
The county makes up for the expense by keeping food costs low, buying in bulk, buying directly from producers, preparing food from scratch, and cutting out the extras, such as not adding sugar and milk in coffee or tea.
"The iced tea inmates get is not sweetened," Paeplow gave as an example, and the coffee is served black. Inmates also get milk for breakfast but it is powdered and bought in bulk.
In December, it cost the jail $1.92 for three meals a day, Paeplow said.
That's 64 cents a meal when you do the math, but the four menus jail authorities rotate every month have to meet nutritional and caloric requirements, he added, and have to be signed off by a certified dietician.
Inmates don't get extra helpings but those who have money in their account can buy treats such as potato chips and cookies from the inmate commissary.
"Food is important to the inmates," he said.
If the food is of poor quality or is not enough, jail authorities could end up with some unhappy inmates.
Making sure the food served is decent also "helps us control the inmate population," Paeplow added.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
firstname.lastname@example.org (863) 386-5831