Tight budgets cut chow time for inmates by John Tuohy

Posted: December 13, 2009 in News and politics
Tight budgets mean some prisoners go light on meals

11/23/2009 12:36 PM | Comments 306  | Recommend 31

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    By John Tuohy, The Indianapolis Star
    INDIANAPOLIS — The inmates at Plainfield Correctional Facility east of Indianapolis can’t be accused of getting a free lunch. Or any lunch at all. At least on some days.

    The medium-security prison has eliminated lunch on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays — part of a pilot program that could go statewide. The Indiana Department of Correction (DOC) insists it’s not about saving money but what’s in the best interest of prisoners. The move is being criticized by national civil rights groups and lawmakers.

    "Denying food or cutting back on meals is beneath the dignity of the state of Indiana and is not in sync with our Hoosier values," said state Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel. Delph is chairman of the state Senate corrections subcommittee.

    Indiana Department of Correction spokesman Doug Garrison said the department has received few complaints since rolling out the changes last month.

    Because of tight budgets, a handful of other states have cut meals to save money. Georgia inmates don’t get lunch on the weekends, according to the Associated Press, and Ohio is considering ending its weekend breakfasts. Other states have thinned menus or limited items such as milk and fresh fruit.

    Indiana prison officials said the driving force here was to give prisoners more classroom and recreational time.

    "Serving meals is a time-consuming effort that takes hours," Garrison said. "By eliminating one meal, we are able to operate our programs more efficiently."

    Elizabeth Alexander, director of the American Civil Liberties Union‘s National Prison Project, said cutting lunch creates "a tremendous gap between meals."

    "Making prisoners go hungry for long periods is not the way to solve anything," she said. "Food is not the place to make cuts, especially since it is such a small percentage of a prison’s budget."

    Food service accounts for about 5% of the Department of Correction’s $726 million budget in 2010, according to the House Ways and Means Committee.

    The new meal plan in Indiana combines breakfast and lunch and is served beginning at 6 a.m., said Kevin Mulroony, Plainfield Correctional spokesman. Dinner is served 10 hours later, at 4 p.m. Lunch is served at 11:30 a.m. Mondays through Thursdays.

    Gil Holmes, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, said the organization was aware of the change but had not received any complaints from prisoners.

    Until it does, the ACLU of Indiana probably won’t take any action, Holmes said.

    The DOC said the pilot program would last an indefinite length of time and is being reviewed to determine other prisons where it might work. Eventually, all 30 prisons in the system could switch to the new eating schedule, Garrison said.

    DOC officials said inmates can always get chips, cookies and Ramen noodles in the commissary to tide them over between meals. Prisoners have to pay for those.

    "You’d be amazed at what prisoners can do with a bag of Ramen," Mulroony said. "It’s as good as anything served in a restaurant."

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