Tuesday, March 02, 2021

Boost Texas prisoner food budgets 39 cents per prisoner/day

If your annual food budget was $800 per person and that money had to last all year, how would you spend it?

I'll give you a moment: Try to imagine what that would look like.

Having recently spent >$250 at my big, post-SNOVID trip to HEB, Grits can hardly fathom eating for a year on that amount. But that's the dilemma facing cafeteria cooks and nutritionists at TDCJ, where prisoners have been receiving food during COVID more suitable for pig slop than human consumption.

This is what Texas feeds prisoners on an $800/year food budget
This is what Texas feeds prisoners
on an $800/year food budget
That said, in Texas prisons the pigs are air conditioned while the prisoners and guards are not, so it's likely the pigs eat better than this.

With the Texas Department of Criminal Justice poised to realize nine figures in budget saving thanks to newly closed prison units, the Legislative Budget Board had suggested the agency reduce its budget by $148 million and send that money back to the General Revenue pot. The group I lead, Just Liberty, is requesting they spend that money instead on two items: 1) Expanded treatment funding to move paroled prisoners out of lockups sooner, and 2) increasing prisoner food budgets by $17 million per year.

We discussed the treatment funding in the last post; let's delve deeper into TDCJ food budgets.

Food spending at TDCJ peaked at $106,601,431 paying for food for 155,076 inmates as of 8/31/09. That comes out to $687.41 per inmate spent on groceries in 2009, if you can imagine! 

If that amount had risen with inflation, food spending at TDCJ would currently be at $854.51 per prisoner.

Today, Texas incarcerates fewer people than we did back then - 119,541 as of January 2021 -  but only spends ~$810.56 per prisoner on food.*

Just Liberty is recommending boosting the food budget by 39 cents per day, per prisoner. That comes out to $17 million per year total, or roughly $952.77 per inmate. That's still an insanely small sum to eat on for a year, but it should give the agency enough leeway to improve prisoners' fare.

A final note: We only know how bad prison food is thanks to photos sent to reporters from contraband cell phones. Staff portray cell phones as dangerous contraband, but IRL they're the most important innovation in carceral accountability we've witnessed in the 21st century. Similar to bystander video of police brutality, cell phones in prisons have documented treatment long-alleged but difficult to prove.

Now, thanks to documented, firsthand examples across many units, we know complaints about Texas prison food aren't just whining from criminals: No one would feed this slop to anyone related to them.

With only a few exceptions, most Texas legislators consider themselves Christians. Well, this is one of those moments implicated in Matthew 25:40, wherein the disciples protested that they'd never visited Jesus in prison or fed him when he was hungry, as he'd described. Christ replied that, "whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me." Grits wants to ask state budget writers directly how they'd answer that question at the Pearly Gates: Is 39 cents per day too much to ask for the "least of these"?

Texas doesn't pay prisoners for their labor and, thanks to widespread guard understaffing, the truth is at this point they're largely who's keeping the prisons running. A decent meal isn't too much to ask.

For Keri Blakinger and thousands of hungry Texas prisoners.

*Prison populations have been dropping during COVID; when they budgeted for this fiscal year, the Legislature had been told to expect a much higher prison population, so these per-prisoner numbers look much better than they could have.


Anonymous said...

I never felt underfed when I was in TDCJ, county jail on the other hand...

Phelps said...

That said, in Texas prisons the pigs are air conditioned while the prisoners and guards are not, so it's likely the pigs eat better than this.

This might be the time to channel my inner Swift and make Another Modest Proposal.

Anonymous said...

This is why there are so many inmates in prison who get sick, and when they are finally released get social security benefits, which still cost the state. Texas is the worst state in the USA, and the poor immigrants and rich people do not care. The immigrants do not care because they are just glad to be in the USA and the rich do not care because they have enough money to buy what they want. All able-bodied inmates are required to work without pay, called slavery!!! So the parole board, which makes very good money, keeps denying inmates parole so they help the state make money by not paying inmates to work. This makes it hard for the families to continue sending their loved ones money to buy food from commernisary, when the inmates' families have lost their jobs due to the low pay they were getting while working. Then the virus struck families and they have o rely on food pantries, and cannot no longer send their loved ones money to eat. It is disgusting!!!! Release all inmates that have served over 25 years, have no cases in 25 years and have been working at least 25 years!!!!

Anonymous said...

First, I remember when TDC, not TDCJ-ID, was self sufficient in regards to food; but then I'm old. Studies should be done to return to that status.
Second, as bad as it is currently, it beats Vita-pro.
Third, I realize that this isn't usually considered relevant on this site, but let's not lose sight as to why these people are incarcerated. No one should be starved or deliberately neglected during their confinement, but they are there for punishment as well as the other ethereal concepts.

Anonymous said...

FYI - when my loved one was in seg at Coffield a few years ago, he saw and heard inmates prepping to scam social security disability, as so many people do.
They shared (at a cost) a list of what psyche symptoms to fake, at least 1 year prior to one's release date. They sold the names of certain corrupt doctors and lawyers that were known to push the fraud along in the system, once they were outside.
Newsflash! There is a WHOLE lot of social security disability fraud.
Has nothing to do with the food in TDCJ.

Anonymous said...

Really? Really? What about the myriad types of sadistic guards who feel that it is "Doing their job" to torture inmates in every possible way that they can get away with, because that is their job, to punish inmates by treating them inhumanely. No, the punishment is being there in far below substandard living conditions, kept away from their families and loved ones, with pretty much no programs to actually help them even have a chance once they get out, if they are not fortunate enough to have familial support after releaae.
I agree with your statement about vita-pro, but that's about it.
It isn't the fact that these people have broken the law and need to be punished by being fed slop, it is the societal cost of sending these inmates home rife with preventable medical conditions. If someone's calorie count is consistently lower than it should be, they will not be able to fight off infections as well as if it were higher. Ramen noodle soups to supplement a shit diet are only compounding the problem.

Anonymous said...

When these inmates are released from TDCJ-ID, as the VAST majority of them will be, they will return home to their families and communities, carrying diseases that you generally only pick up in institutional environments, (MRSA anyone?), and with all of the other problems that go along with a terrible diet, such as metabolic syndrome, gout, man oh man, the list goes on and on.
True, these people are incarcerated because they committed a crime, but that does not take away their humanity, just the humanity of their captors, and their captors administrators and legislators, it seems.
If they don't want people to become recidivists, or they don't want recidivists to change themselves and their lives to end the cycle of pain their recidivism causes not only themselves, (which I can tell you first hand many of them long ago stopped caring about their own suffering), but the pain that it causes their families and loved ones, then please, keep medical and dental programs the way they are now.
The vast majority of Dental programs were axed in 2003, and the MAGA heads on here will say: "Why should I be on the hook for inmates dental care when they messed up their teeth doing meth?", (which is very often NOT the case, many dental problems arise in prison with no way to treat them, well, the Splendid idea of charging inmates $100 as nothing more than a deterrent to seeking healthcare, is quite effective at increasing the number of problems people will have when they are released, medical as well as dental.)
Well my answer is, how do you expect them to get jobs and become productive members of society when they have only 11 green teeth left? They can't, and I hope it is people like you whose houses they break into to steal shit in order to survive because they have no chance of ever rejoining society in that state. Not to mention the years and years of chronic, intolerable, intractable, pain that such severe dental problems will have waiting for them.
I was a recidivist. I was released for the 5th time in 2014, I have not been back, and I finished parole for the first time 2 years ago. If it weren't for my familial support the last time I got out, along with an excellent job in sales that was waiting for me, after I spent $5k getting my dental situation fixed that my family loaned me, I would most certainly be there right now.
I was on and off of opiates for years, and I would be off them, and have a dental abscess come up, (and if you've have ever had one, you'll know that even heroin doesn't take away that kind of pain), and I would fall right back into the shit. It wasn't a planned out justification, it just became one after the fact, the truth being, I didn't give a shit what I had to do to make that pain stop.
The first time I said I was done, in 2008, I only made it a year, working, paying my own bills, but the kinds of jobs I could get then did not pay well, and when that pain returned, I didn't give a shit what I had to do to make it stop.
I just think that eliminating the healthcare deterrent, and bringing back Dental programs at pre 2003 levels or more, would help so many people so much... But I do not think that is the goal of TDCJ-ID, sadly.

Before the imposition of the $100 annual healthcare copay (i.e. deterrent), there was a $3 healthcare copay for any new problem that you were seeking help for. So many people back then would have massive, draining staph infections, from doing stupid shit like getting tattoos in there, and would not go to medical because they didn't want to pay the $3 copay. So many people wouldn't go because of that reason alone.

It is unconscionably irresponsible to deter people in an institutional environment from seeking healthcare.
Not just because of the effect of that upon the institutional population, but also because of the effect of such policies on society as a whole.

Anonymous said...

The people in the “Transfer Units” where they are housed for up to 2 years before going to an ID unit, are only fed 2 meals on the weekends. Supposedly, TDCJ makes the 2 meals “calorie equivalent” to 3 meals, but from what we have learned, this is not the case. These people are hungry and have to supplement with Commissary items. Indigent prisoners do not have the money to supplement with commissary food.
TDCJ needs to expand the food budget to give the people in “transfer units” 3 meals a day on the weekends.

Anonymous said...

Do you know why I have to post my comments as “Anonymous?” Because TDCJ could trace it back to my incarcerated loved one if I posted as myself, and there is the very real fear of retaliation/retribution to my loved one.

Anonymous said...

The comment about dental care is so true. My own incarcerated loved one was denied his supposed yearly dental cleaning. In the free world, my loved one would go at least every 3 months for a cleaning, because he needed it, even with good oral hygiene. He has had trouble getting dental flossers from Commissary, as they were unavailable for long periods of time. Vendor contract issues, per Huntsville. The charge for healthcare has changed since the writer was imprisoned. I believe it is around $14.00 per visit now. Healthcare is very, very poor in TDCJ. We know of one incarcerated man who had knee surgery and he was given no pain meds for a week because he couldn’t walk to go to the healthcare office to get the pain meds. Can you imagine his suffering? How cruel is that?

Unknown said...

You nailed it.

Phelps said...

MAGA heads on here will say: "Why should I be on the hook for inmates dental care when they messed up their teeth doing meth?"

The MAGA heads here are NOT saying that. You should be looking to us as your allies. One of the few things we think the government SHOULD be doing is running prisons, running them well, running them humanely, and rehabilitating people.

Anonymous said...

To quote Phelps: One of the few things we think the government SHOULD be doing is running prisons, running them well, running them humanely, and rehabilitating people.

Amen, Amen

Anonymous said...

Grits you have touched me too many times to forget. I hope I see you in the after life where I hope you will be rewarded for you goodwill.

Anonymous said...

TDCJ should serve that slop with a side of Nutriloaf to the demagogic Gov. Abbott, his Culture Warrior Lt. Gov. Patrick, and the Fleein' Felon Atty. Gen. Paxton.

Phelps said...

I don’t have a problem with the governor having to eat the same menu.

I was thinking earlier that if you forced the local public school (where the guard’s kids go to school) to be served lunch from the same kitchen, then the quality would go up dramatically.

Former prisoner said...

The guards get free meals but they do not eat the same food or under the same conditions. Serve them the same food. In my first five months inside, I lost 60 pounds.

Brian said...

I had the fortune of being housed in the Huntsville region where the food is considerably better than the other regions. I noticed the exact opposite of folks losing weight, most people gained it. I gained 50 pounds in prison, but it was because of the commissary food. I agree with this blog and how the author proposes to increase the food budget.

Anonymous said...

Oh, so that is why private prison stocks, as well as private transportation services' stocks, soared in the days after Trump's victory in 2016?

Phelps said...

Yes. The complaint here is that not enough is being spent on prison food. More money is being put into prisons. Isn’t that what you WANT?

Anonymous said...

I agree with the first anonymous person posted. TDCJ parole board and the Governor of Texas are to blame for the illness of the inmates. First, any inmate that has served over 25 years, took all the classes at Whinham school, had no cases in 25 years, and has worked for over 25 years, and then comes up for parole, SHOULD be granted parole. The parole board likes to deny inmates because of the NATURE OF THE OFFENSE, which will never change. They cannot go back in time and change that!!!!! So they keep getting denied.
Second, about the food. Inmates are most of the time given enough garbage to only keep them breathing. Sometimes the cooked foods are not fully cooked and if the inmate does not have money on their books, they look for help by stealing another person's commissary food. They get caught, and get into a fight and end up with a case. To maintain a healthy body requires a healthy meal.!!! A lot of inmates do not have anyone on the outside to put money on their books, because their families are paid low wages and they have to live also.
My takeaway is TEXAS IS THE WORSE STATE IN THE USA, besides Mississippi. I pray daily for the inmates.