Washington state prisoners produce frozen food for other prisoners as a cost savings-2400 calories-$5 a day

Inmates cook for inmates
By Alex Paul, Albany Democrat-Herald
Wednesday, March 31, 2010

LEBANON — Inmates at the new Lebanon jail will eat three meals a day prepared by inmates from the Washington State Department of Corrections, according to police Chief Mike Healy.

Healy and Lt. Ben Silverman informed the city council about the meal plan during a recent tour of the six-cell, 12-bed facility.

The new $10 million, 30,000-square-foot Justice Center opened last summer. Inmates so far have been short-term holds, Healy said, but the jail is starting to accept longer-term inmates, from 30 days up to one year.

The meals are purchased from the Airway Heights correctional facility near Spokane. In addition to serving the nutritional needs of Washington state inmates, the factory also sells products to 45 jails in Oregon, Washington and Montana.

More than 200 inmates work at the facility that produces 4,000 to 6,000 TV dinner-like frozen meals per day. The program started in the mid-1990s, according to Danielle Wiles, a spokeswoman for the Washington Department of Corrections.

Wiles said the program generates more than $2 million per year for the system.

Opening the door of a large upright freezer, Healy revealed stacks of frozen meals. The meals are nutritionally balanced and total no more than 2,400 calories per day.

Healy said the goal is to feed the inmates, not fatten them.

“We will supplement the dinners with fresh fruit and dairy,” Healy said.

The meals are purchased in three-month supplies. They are heated in a microwave oven.

Healy said the department will be able to feed inmates for about $5 each per day. Other company’s meal plans cost as much as $8 per day. At the city’s old jail, TV dinners were bought in bulk, Healy said.

A breakfast with scrambled eggs as the entree costs $1.60, while cold cereal costs just 72 cents per serving.

For lunch, a roast beef sandwich box meal costs $1.80 and a turkey sandwich meal is $1.55.

Supper entrees are more substantial, such as salisbury steak at $1.78, or fish and chips at $1.70.

“These are the same type and quality of sandwiches that are sold in many convenience stores and at some casinos,” Healy said.

The Linn County Jail contracts with a private company called Aramark to provide meals to inmates. Aramark staff members operate the jail’s kitchen, and meals cost about $1.50 each, according to Capt. Barry Baggett.