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April 28, 2010

"Jailbirds Order Up Hot Wings"

The title of this post is the headline of this fascinating article about a modern new development in the economics of prison food from yesterday's Wall Street Journal.  Here is how the piece starts:

In a bid to raise cash and keep the peace in crowded jails, wardens nationwide are offering inmates the chance to order meatball subs, cheeseburgers, chicken parmesan — even a "Pizza and Wings Party Pack," complete with celery, blue cheese and a Pepsi.

The program goes beyond the old-fashioned prison commissary, with its cup-a-soups and bags of chips, and it can be quite lucrative for corrections departments.  "We have to be creative in tough fiscal times," said Edwin G. Buss, commissioner of Indiana's Department of Correction.

But critics worry the service will trigger jealousies, promote unhealthy diets and coddle prisoners.

The service, launched in 2006 by food-service giant Aramark Corp., took off in the past two years amid the recession. Inmates — or, more often, their relatives — place orders on Aramark's "iCare" Web site. The company tailors its menus to each jail's rules.  Prices generally run $7 to $12 for a hot meal and $20 to $100 for a junk-food box filled with beef jerky, iced cookies, vanilla cappuccino or other goodies not available in the commissary.

The Indiana state prison system is on track to make more than $2 million this year on sales from the service. In San Antonio, Texas, the Bexar County jail, which makes 45 cents on every dollar in sales, projects its revenue could hit $500,000.

Advocates say the deliveries give guards a potent disciplinary tool: Be good or you won't get your jalapeno poppers.

Revenue from the meals has saved prison programs, such as parenting classes, wardens say. And in some institutions, inmates get job-training credit for preparing the hot meals in the jail kitchen and packaging the junk-food boxes.  Plus, said Deputy Chief Debra Jordan, who runs detention programs in Bexar County, given the "very humble" quality of prison food, letting an offender's mom buy him a club sandwich now and then "is an act of kindness."

Critics, however, fear the deliveries will inspire envy, violence and extortion. "It's like with kids — you don't bring cookies to school unless you've got enough for everyone," said Gordon Crews, a criminal-justice professor at Marshall University.

Wardens who have tried the program say that hasn't been a problem.  Many prisons have long let well-behaved inmates order goods such as CD players, sneakers and mini-TVs.  "Jails are always run better when your inmates are happy," said Capt. Richard Fisher, the jail administrator in Rock Island County, Ill.

April 28, 2010 at 08:27 AM | Permalink


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Great. Take the underclass of society lock them up and them charge them triple for the crap food that everyone knows is making america fat and diabetic.

Posted by: KRG def attny | Apr 28, 2010 11:40:53 AM

Once one admits the sole benefit of prison is incapacitation, and not punishment, there should be no upper limit to the levels of achievement of either staff nor prisoners, as long as they are not loose. People with antisocial personality disorder have good social skills, sometimes better than those of lawyers. When in a structured environment, preventing their criminality, they can thrive. Why not full time, lucrative jobs in phone sales? Contracts for tasks that can be carried out off site, at home? They should be paid fairly, and then they should reimburse the state or victims for the value of the damage they did in their crime sprees. With the money left over, they should be able to have any luxury they please that is legal and safe. This is a win-win situation, but the lawyers are complaining for some unknown reason.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Apr 28, 2010 1:29:05 PM

KRG --

There are about ten posts a month here about the desperate need for money for prisons. They are inevitably followed by suggestions that we should shorten sentences.

This post suggests a way to address the problem without premature release, reducing prison services like drug rehab or vocational training, or raising taxes. So why not give it a shot? The need is dire, right?

If the inmates or their families think the price is too high or the food is unhealthy, they have an easy out: DON'T BUY IT.

P.S. The prices look about the same as those I have to pay on an airplane for a bag of microscopic pretzels.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 28, 2010 2:22:39 PM

This article is a great example of the reporting fallacy trying to find the other side of every story. Other than some random criminal justice professor who gave a generic quote about jealousy in prison, no one who actually opposes the program is named. The same "concerns" of "critics" are repeated over and over again, with no evidence that they're anything other than what occurred to the reporter as reasons someone might oppose the programs, and should be included because the article wouldn't sound right without some "balance."

Posted by: Jay | Apr 28, 2010 5:24:28 PM

i have to agree. Sounds like a damn good ideal. Brings in much needed funds to both the institutin and the inmates. It also gives the inmates a reason to play nice with everyone.

Posted by: rodsmith | Apr 29, 2010 12:46:39 PM

MY GOD! we all agreed! That's it the world ends at midnight!

Posted by: rodsmith | Apr 29, 2010 12:47:15 PM

I tend to have a different perspective on this particular subject, since I actually run the foodservice for a county jail in California. Many facilities, from county to state are offering this type of program. It is indeed a tool that the officers can use for reward. Pods that have the cleanest floors can participate, those with violations or dirty areas may be restricted from ordering.

Many food items can be healthy but most are simply comfort foods that, let's face it, are not as healthy as needed. Many facilities will take the profit and donate it to local charities, reinforce the budgets of programs inside the facility, to purchasing new equipment.

In this day and age of tight budgets, this is indeed one option to stem the early releases and help out an already overloaded system. (my opinion only)

Posted by: Mark | Apr 30, 2010 2:56:25 PM

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