Ohio Introduces Two-Meal Plan to Reduce Costs

COLUMBUS, Ohio — State inmates began receiving one fewer meal per day on weekends and holidays, beginning in August, but the cost-savings initiative will not reduce the amount of food served to inmates, according to corrections officials.

Under the plan, inmates at the state’s 32 prisons receive brunch instead of breakfast and lunch. The brunch plan delivers the same amount of food as the out-going three-meal system.

“The brunch meal plan was a result of a joint labor and management cost savings committee,” says JoEllen Culp, prisons spokeswoman.

The Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections expects to save $1.2 million per year through staff and utility cost reductions.

Although, the institute of Medicine of the National Academies’ Food and Nutrition Board has established guidelines for minimum daily caloric intake, there are no federal standards for state prison systems, experts say.

In Ohio, dieticians were involved in the planning process to make the menu as healthy as possible. With the two-meal-a-day plan, the prisons are able to afford new food items they couldn’t afford under the old plan.

Inmate focus groups helped pick some of the food, which includes turkey, ham, turkey bacon, breakfast burritos, coffee cakes and English muffins.

Brunch is served at 11 a.m., instead of breakfast at 6 a.m. and lunch at 11:30 a.m. Inmates with special dietary needs are still able to get morning meals.

According to officials, about two-thirds of Ohio’s 51,000 inmates skip breakfast on weekends and holidays, opting instead to sleep in.

“The reaction from inmates is that there has been a lot of food,” Culp says.

The savings initiative is just one of the department’s responses to an $87 million cut in its budget over the next two years. Other cost-savings measures that have been implemented include hiring, purchase and equipment restrictions.

The reduced meal program will allow prisons to employ more food service workers on weekdays and reduce overtime costs, says Terry Collins, director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections.

In Georgia, the fifth-largest prison system in the United States, housing more than 58,000 inmates, state corrections officials implemented a similar two-meal initiative on weekends several years ago.

Inmates receive the same number of daily calories: 2,800 for men and 2,300 for women, officials say. Almost 5 percent of the inmate population receives three meals every day health issues, medical reasons or other special needs.

Lawmakers cut the Department of Corrections’ $1.1 billion budget for 2009 by 10 percent and the DOC recently reduced the inmate workweek from five eight-hour days to four 10-hour days and expanded the two-meal system to Fridays.

Several other states that are adhering to the three-meal model have instead cut food items from the menu.

Alabama reduced the amount of milk served to three portions per week and cut servings of fresh fruit to once per week. The cost-cutting initiative is projected to save approximately $700,000.

Tennessee reduced daily milk servings for male inmates from two servings a day to one. The move is projected to save the department about $600,000.