The Perry County Prison Board is looking to possibly outsource kitchen services, according to discussions at its most recent meeting on April 20.
However, the board has made no decisions other than to look at options for privately managed food service at this time.
Some kitchen staff were in the meeting and expressed concern about outsourcing the prison food service to a private company. Some companies save money with reduced quality foods, reduced calorie counts, and by using lower-paid staff instead of local employees, they said.
In a prison, all of those issues are health and safety issues, the staff members said. Inmates with full stomachs are good inmates.
Warden Karen Barclay said there are four full-time kitchen staff at the prison who are county employees. The prison has space for part-time staff, too, but it’s difficult to keep them because of the competitive labor market and wages. Workers can often make more at a restaurant.
“I’m all about keeping county jobs,” Commissioner Brenda Watson said, but if the county can do that and save money, it’s worth looking at ideas.
All board members agreed to seeking additional information from food services companies.
Commissioner Gary Eby said the board could stipulate in any future contracts that a private company would retain current employees.
“Why would they not want people who are already established?” he said.
Privatized school cafeterias have been the norm around the state and country over the past 20 years. In many cases, the cafeteria employees were retained and became employees of the private company. They often have regular food quality and operational reviews.
Outsourcing the prison’s cafeteria could dovetail with the county’s prison efficiency study, which is complete and expected to be made public by May. It’s not yet known what that says about the prison’s various operations, but the board does want to save money.
The prison is the county’s second-most expensive department at $5.4 million.
Mail goes electronic
The prison board voted to have all inmate mail move to an electronic format to eliminate contraband in the prison.
Currently, paper mail is sorted at a separate facility, then forwarded to the inmates. Under the new system, the physical mail will be held outside the prison, scanned and an electronic copy forwarded to inmate accounts after being reviewed by prison staff, Barclay said.
Inmates will be able to view their mail on iPads as long as they are still inmates. Upon release, they would get their physical mail forwarded.
Pay Tel, the telecom company that provides payphone service to the prison, will handle the electronic correspondence contract, and provide the prison with more iPads so there’s a 1-1 ratio with inmates. Barclay said inmates now share an iPad per cell, but that can cause conflicts. The computers will be the property of the prison, and inmates won’t be able to access them at night so they can charge.
The new service required a four-year extension of Pay Tel’s phone contract.
Jim T. Ryan can be reached via email at [email protected]