FRANKLIN, Ind. (AP) — Time in jail comes with a guarantee: three square meals a day.
But those meals can't be just anything.
State rules require inmate meals to meet specific requirements. At least one meal each day has to be hot. And breakfast, lunch and dinner have to add up to a certain calorie count, with recommended amounts of grains and vegetables.
In the past two years, those recommendations have changed, adding whole grains to the list and increasing the amount of vegetables inmates are required to eat every day. School lunches have made similar shifts.
Those updates have come with a higher price tag, since whole grains and produce cost more. And now the jail is dealing with increases in price due to fuel costs and is concerned about the expected impact of this year's drought, Sheriff Doug Cox said.
This year, the jail needed an additional $50,000, a 23 percent increase, to the $222,000 budgeted for food. So far this year, the jail has spent nearly $186,000 on food.
The jail already has started serving less-expensive meals more often and is comparing prices of all the food purchased. Cox told the Daily Journal (http://bit.ly/OJNc89 ) he hopes the jail will have enough money to get through the year.
The money comes from the county general fund, which is paid into by taxpayers throughout the county in income, property and other taxes. Inmates do not pay for the meals they eat, Cox said.
Jail officials are used to the complaints from the public that inmates eat better than they do, but there is no choice. County jails are required to keep inmates in the same or better condition than when they came in, and they are required by state law to follow nutritional standards, said Kenneth Whipker, Indiana Department of Correction executive liaison to county sheriffs and jails.
"Whether we like it or not, that is what we are supposed to do. Three square meals a day, probably a better meal than they ate when out of jail," he said.
He often hears complaints from inmates and their families that they lost weight while in jail. But that's because the food isn't what inmates are used to eating and the portions are smaller, he said.
For Johnson County, inmates follow a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet, and they get the recommended servings of whole grains and vegetables set by a national food and nutrition board.
A nutritionist looks over the menu at least once a year to be sure the jail follows state standards, said Abby Hamilton, jail matron.
Meeting the requirements also dictates how the jail prepares food, which is done by three cooks and inmates, Hamilton said.
Most food is baked or steamed. Rarely is anything fried, she said.
And they have to be precise in portions and servings. So the kitchen has to measure and make sure inmates get the required amounts of grains and vegetables, she said.
Recipes call for 2 ounces of a certain ingredient, so that they know exactly how much an inmate gets, she said.
They measure again when serving the food on inmate trays, making sure everyone gets the same portion size, she said.
About two years ago, the standards were updated to require that inmates receive 6 ounces of grains per day, with half being whole grains, and 2½ cups of vegetables.
That meant a change in the menu, including adding whole-grain pasta and bread.
And that meant an increase in spending, since those foods cost more than others, she said.
Those higher prices have brought some changes to the menu in the jail, including serving less costly meals, such as ham and beans or turkey hot dogs, more often, Hamilton said.
But the jail can't serve the same meals every day in order to meet requirements set out for the calories and nutrition jail inmates should get, she said.
"It's hard to tweak it too much because you have to fall within those guidelines," she said.
In order to try to help reduce costs, the jail also started working with three vendors, Hamilton said.
They compare prices from all three companies for every food item they buy, from bread to chicken. Whoever has the lowest price is whom the jail orders the food from for that week, she said.
But the jail can't always control its costs, because they fluctuate with how many inmates are in the jail, Hamilton said.
So far this year, the number of inmates in the jail has stayed well below the cap of 304. But this week, the number has been closer to 270, which means more food will need to be prepared for those inmates, she said.
Information from: Daily Journal, http://www.thejournalnet.com