Ellen Perlman was a GOVERNING staff writer and technology columnist.E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Meals are generally considered to be a highlight of life behind bars. So states take a risk when they mess with inmates' mess. In the wake of budget cuts, however, Iowa has been pruning prison meals to save money on food. There now are limits on the amount of dessert and milk convicts may have and there is no longer a bottomless cup of coffee. Instead of orange juice, they are getting an orange-flavored drink pumped with vitamins.
Those are just some of the ways the state has chosen to scale back. When considering where to make cuts, the department figured food service would be a wiser choice than security procedures, for example. "Prison isn't a pleasant place to be," says Fred Scaletta, a corrections department spokesman. But even in these lean times, he adds, some prisoners are eating better than they did on the outside. No meals have been eliminated, although some prisons around the state have stopped serving hot meals at breakfast or lunch or both.
In Virginia, prisoners at state facilities will become members of the brunch set, being offered just two meals a day on weekends and holidays. Virginia already had been trying out such a policy at several facilities for a couple of years and decided to institute the policy statewide in January. The corrections department figures it saves 10 cents per offender per meal. That amounts to more than $352,000 in savings annually. Inmates with dietary issues, such as diabetes, will still get three squares a day.
Although it may sound like punishment, corrections spokesman Larry Traylor notes that prisoners where the program has been tried seem to like the two-meal plan. "It lets them sleep in," he says. "They don't have to make sure to be at a 6 a.m. or 7 a.m. meal."
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