Green Bologna Enters 21st Century

Famous for serving inmates green bologna in tent cities, no one would accuse Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio of catering to inmates, but neither can anyone ignore the new high-tech efficiency with which jail meals will soon be prepared.

With the ribbon cutting of a 146,000-square-foot Central Services Building in August, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office is positioned to set a new standard for the efficient, cost-effective preparation of inmate food at the county level, and could do the same for laundry service.

Site-cast, tilt-wall concrete provided the skin for this state-of-the-art “Food Factory”.

The $40 million Central Services Building-also referred to as “The Food Factory”-is broken up into seven kitchen areas, including processing areas for meat and other foods, bakery, dehydration room, cook-chill, cannery, and curing coolers. Once the equipment has been tested and a staff of inmate labor and outside employees has been trained, the facility will be capable of processing 40,000 meal trays per day.

Joe Arpaio, or “Sheriff Joe” as he is known to the media, has made headlines around the world for his unique approach to detention. From tent cities to green bologna to pink underwear, he has promoted the idea that jail conditions should be adequate, but not overly comfortable. But his has always been a message of efficiency, and this building fulfills that mission.

Maricopa County’s jail services are now consolidated on a vast scale. The bakery includes two silos that can hold 30,000 pounds of flour. The 12,500-square-foot freezer is almost the length of a football field, and will allow Arpaio’s Food and Beverage Department to take advantage of donations of excess supply from food companies as well as store seasonal items, taking advantage of any opportunity for a bargain.

DLR Group provided architecture and engineering services for both the Central Services Building and the adjacent Lower Buckeye Jail, scheduled to open in October. Jack Mecham, DLR’s project architect for the Central Services Building, uses the example of tomatoes to explain the process-although it applies to whatever foods become available, including meat from nearby ostrich and emu farms.

Tomatoes would be purchased at the lowest possible cost and prepped for dehydration and dry storage, or for the cook-chill area where they are put in stews, made into tomato paste, or turned into ketchup. From there it might be on to the cannery, where any tomato product could be packaged in various sizes.

“They have the ability, through meat processing, to make their own bologna, sausage, hot dogs, etc.,” says Mecham, who says the facility is largely the dream of former Food and Beverage Director Frank Russo, who laid out the areas he needed and left it to DLR Group to provide a skin of site-cast, tilt-wall concrete.

The new food services plant has seven kitchen areas, including processing areas for meat and other foods, bakery, dehydration room, cook-chill, cannery, and curing coolers.

Within The Food Factory is a meal tray processing assembly for cycling trays and food carts, where food is dispensed into trays that were custom designed to have hot and cold sides, matching corresponding hot and cold sides on the carts. Retherm units keep the trays cold until it’s time to heat up the warm side.

The architect says he doesn’t know how much green bologna the facility will produce, but he is certain that if Maricopa County’s most famous culinary item is served up, it will be sanitary. “In this process, it’s all about health and safety as well as quality of food,” says Mecham. While planners could have gone the full route and provided a butchery area, they decided not to for obvious security reasons.

The facility also includes an intake center where inmates will be inspected for contraband as well as for signs of illness. Inmates will have to shower and change clothes at intake before going to work. To help the county maintain sanitary food trucks and semis, a free-standing truck wash was built just outside The Food Factory to clean the inside of the trailers.

Working three eight-hour shifts to operate the facility 24 hours per day, most of the facility’s inmate laborers will be drawn from Maricopa County’s tent city. Inmates will be separated into groups of 20 in each kitchen area, joined by one or two outside employees and at least one officer. Each area is isolated from the others, with restrooms and break rooms for inmates so there is no reason to leave.

The laundry area, operated in another nearby building by female inmates, is an even more impressive display of automation. “With computerization, they have the ability to adjust chemical levels or add pink dye for the men’s underwear,” says Mecham, who notes that this practice of Sheriff Joe’s has cut down on undergarment theft.

Laundry is first brought up on to a platform and then separated into various bins. When those bins fill up to a certain weight, they are automatically dumped onto a conveyer that leads to a sling system that carries the laundry above the washers.

From here, moving washers and dryers receive and discharge garments. “These washers have a stationary base, and they lean back to receive soiled laundry from the slings above,” says Mecham. “They go level to wash, and then they lean forward to discharge clean laundry onto a conveyor. Then the laundry is conveyed to the other side of the wall to four dryers, which can also lean forward to dump into carts, and then goes to automated folding machines.”

The Central Services Building is the high-tech hub that will bring new and existing detention facilities into the future. Joe Arpaio’s Sheriff’s Office has proved his colorful policies are not the limit to innovation in jail administration in Maricopa County.