A significant expense of local jails or detention centers is the cost of feeding the inmates. Three meals a day, as required by state statutes, can become very expensive. I have often heard a sheriff or jail administrator say that a hungry inmate is an unhappy inmate who causes trouble. For this reason, some jails make sure their inmates are exceptionally well fed to keep them happy and avoid the trouble they can cause. But at the same time, the jail wants to ensure that they are not overpaying for the food served to inmates.
Each state has established certain nutritional guidelines that every jail is required to follow. These guidelines include a certain number of dairy products, bread products, proteins, and portion sizes. Typically, the meal plans must be reviewed by a registered and licensed dietitian who certifies that the menu complies with the nutritional standards that have been established by the state.
Most of the jails we’ve visited serve half-pint cartons of milk (like the ones we drank in elementary school). The jail may house 300 inmates who are served one half-pint carton twice a day. The jail may purchase 600 half-pints of milk per day, but because it is such a small quantity, they do not always get a competitive price for that milk. Typically they’re the only department that buys milk.
However, down the street is a local school that is also required to serve milk at least twice a day to all of the students. Typically the school district purchases much more milk then the jail and, therefore, has a much lower unit cost per half-pint of milk. Every time we have compared the milk price, we have found that the school district price is usually 20-30% cheaper than the jail price, and frequently, both are buying milk from the same vendor.
It seems that when the sheriff or jail administrator calls the milk vendor and says he would like to piggyback the school district pricing, the vendor has agreed to the lower price.
In many states, jails are allowed to purchase and serve day-old bread. Think about it: how often do you get fresh bread for your own home. If you’re lucky, your bread is fresh on the day you buy it. The rest of the loaf is a day old or older when you eventually eat it.
It’s like having bread from the thrift store delivered directly to the jail. Bread companies love to get rid of large quantities of day-old bread on a regular basis. They are more than happy to deliver day-old bread to a local jail on a consistent and regular basis. Frequently we have seen a 30-40% savings and a few times a 50% savings between the price of day-old bread and fresh bread.
The absence of portion control may contribute to the happy inmate concept. Could the kitchen staff be providing larger portions than required by state statute or required by the certified menu?
Most serving utensils, such as a slotted spoon or ladle, are made to specific sizes such as 4 or 8 ounces, and a serving size is frequently 4 or 8 ounces. So when you see the kitchen staff serving heaping spoonfuls of corn that should be four-ounce portions according to the certified menu, but in reality are 6-8 ounces, it easily increases your food costs. Think about it: If your heaping spoonful becomes six ounces instead of four, your costs increase, or perhaps the heaping serving becomes an eight-ounce portion—then your costs double.
Does the kitchen staff need a reminder that portions are to be maintained at the required level as called for in the certified menu?
Most of you would agree that the jail would prefer to have savings on the cost of food and to use the savings for other expenses (or to better compensate the staff).
Jails or detention centers use large quantities of hot water for cooking, bathing, and cleaning.
Have the officials of these centers (jails) explored the possibility of installing solar voltaic panels to pre-heat the water and reduce the cost of heating water? We know of detention centers that have a company, which can use federal and state tax credits, to install the solar panels, and then receive their compensation based on the savings from not purchasing electricity, natural gas, or propane. The detention center has nothing invested, and the solar company assumes all of the risk. This is a true win-win situation.
See www.flsenergy.com for case studies.
Have you used the ideas in this blog to help reduce your jail food costs? We would love to hear about it and invite you to comment (below) with your stories involving the use of our suggested expense reduction techniques.