Three times a day, the inmates at Florida’s Madison Correctional Institution discover what a budget deficit tastes like, says the Miami Herald. The state legislature is cutting spending in the nation’s third-largest state prison system. Florida is coping with a failed and expensive food-privatization venture of former Gov. Jeb Bush. In 2001, the state turned over most prison food operations to Aramark Corp., even after Ohio had scrapped a similar experiment, citing bad results.
After seven years marked by numerous irregularities, fines for sloppy service, and a report that flagged the vendor’s ”windfall” profits, Aramark pulled out of Florida prisons last month. The firm said it could no longer make money due to rising prices of bread, milk, and other staples amid pressure from the state to cut costs. A second, smaller company also left. In fiscal 2007-08, Florida paid the private vendors $85 million. The current year’s food budget is $76 million. Aramark’s cost per day to feed an inmate was $2.69. Now it is $2.12.
Corn bread replaces sliced bread at some meals. Inmates will get one sweetener packet instead of four. In the Sunshine State’s prisons, orange juice is made from concentrate. Contrary to the myth of bread and water, inmates are fed according to a highly regulated heart-healthy menu with strict portions and caloric counts overseen by a prison dietitian. One recent lunch was bland-tasting tuna on white bread with black-eyed peas, pasta salad and cole slaw, served with a red spork that can’t be used as a weapon. The tastiest part of the meal: a big, sweet sugar cookie.