A thin puddle of sloppy joe mixture, a purplish lump of bread pudding, and small pool of mustard greens. That’s how the Wichita Eagle describes lunchtime at the Sedgwick County, Ks. Jail. The food is not pretty, but it is cheap, costong no more than 40 cents. Like many government units, Sedgwick County has significantly reduced the amount it spends to feed inmates. Last year, the county contracted with a local company to feed prisoners for $1.23 per meal, from which labor, profit, and other costs are taken. In February, it made a deal with the Louisiana-based ABL Management to do the same job for $1.01. At a jail serving 3,900 meals a day, that’s a savings to the county of several hundred thousand dollars a year.
Last week, county commissioner Gwen Welshimer ate lunch at the jail and told The Eagle it was “not something you’d serve humans.” Another commissioner, Kelly Parks ate 80 percent of his jail meal. He found a small piece of plastic in one of his meatballs, and suffered from heartburn that afternoon. By comparison, the Wichita school district spends 81 cents to $1.15 per meal for elementary school lunches. ABL is required to provide inmates with three meals a day totaling at least 2,700 calories, of which no more than 30 percent comes from fat, at least 10 percent comes from protein, and the rest from carbohydrates. More than a dozen states have reduced inmate meal costs in state prisons during this decade, either by contracting with larger providers or by reducing the amount of food.”It’s fierce competition in the business,” said Wayne Smith, president of Wichita Canteen, which had the jail food contract for 15 years. “In this business, everything is based on volume.”