Inmates at the Victoria County Jail are eating sandwiches for lunch and dinner after several inmates were caught making alcohol in the kitchen.As it happens, Jail Commission Standards require jail menus to be approved by a nutritionist. She "wrote on the menu that it 'meets the minimum daily requirements for macronutrients,' but 'should be used for less than two weeks, with the hopes of only one week usage.'" At three weeks and counting, they're already ignoring the limit recommended by the nutritionist. She approved the menu as a short-term fix, not ad infinitum.
But some inmates and their families have complained hunger is causing even more problems behind bars.
Amanda Garcia, who is in the jail on suspicion of violating the terms of her probation for a July 2015 theft between $500 and $1,500 case, is one of those hungry inmates complaining.
"We've been eating like this for three weeks. There's a lot of people in here mad about it. It's not right," Garcia, 23, said Tuesday.
Apparently, it's a lot cheaper not to cook food. "In July, the sheriff's office spent about $18,000 to feed inmates at the jail. It has budgeted $485,000 annually to feed inmates at the jail, according to the regular department payment register from the July 14 Victoria County Commissioner's Court meeting." So they're radically underspending this month compared to what's budgeted.
Here's a decent primer on when concerns with jail and prison food rise to constitutional levels. It takes a lot. On this particular topic:
Denying prisoners "hot" meals is not a violation of prisoners' rights, if the cold meals provided are adequate nutritionally, and all needed sanitary procedures are followed in the preparation and serving of the meals. Cosby v. Purkett, 782 F.Supp. 1324 (E.D.Mo., 1992). See also, Amos v. Simmons, 82 P.3d 859 (Kan. App. 2004) (Serving a prisoner a sack lunch rather than a hot meal did not violate his rights when the food provided was nutritionally adequate and met his medical and religious needs.).In this case, though, cold meals are being served for longer than the nutritionist recommended and her recommendation to go back to regular meals after a week or two is being ignored. So that sounds to Grits like it may well rise to the level of a constitutional violation.
The jail submitted a four-phase plan to the commission to "restore discipline," replace male trusty staff, and to begin serving hot meals again. Notably, "Phase II begins with the acceptance of the emergency meal schedule by the general inmate population." Their "acceptance" is an odd goal for a short-term change. Grits has no direct knowledge of the situation, but there's a whiff here of mass punishment for the offenses of a few. The plan envisions cold food being served to inmates for fourteen days under the "emergency meal menu," after which they would switch back. According to the Advocate, this has already been going on three weeks, with no end in sight.
The Victoria Jail's incarceration rate is 3.7 per thousand residents, compared to an average of 2.16 statewide. As of July 1st according to the Commission on Jail Standards, 56 percent of incarcerated inmates being held pretrial, having not yet been convicted of a crime.
Related: From the Marshall Project.