Food is considered more than a meal at the Tarrant County Jail.
And at no time is that more evident than Thanksgiving, when those inside are not happy about spending the holiday behind bars.
“Food is a management tool,” said Terry Grisham, Tarrant County sheriff’s department spokesman. “It literally is a dangerous place to work when you have inmates who are mad about what is the highpoint of their day. We’re outnumbered here 48-to-1. And when the numbers are 48-to-1, the odds are not good for the one.”
This Thanksgiving, inmates in the Tarrant County jail system will be feted with turkey, cornbread dressing made from scratch, cranberry sauce, green beans, bread and butter, mashed potatoes, gravy and a beverage, said Bob Austin, chief operating officer for Five Star Correctional Services, the Dallas based vendor for institutional facilities that services the Tarrant County jails.
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Cooks began preparing the Thanksgiving meal Monday. For the first time, Five Star cooks will be serving a spice cake with cream cheese icing drizzled on top, Austin said. The menu will be substantially the same during the Christmas holiday period, Austin said.
“It’s basically like a home-cooked meal,” Austin said. “It’s certainly not the bread and water that most people see on TV.”
It’s certainly not the bread and water that most people see on TV.
Bob Austin, Five Star Correctional Services
The three meals they get each day are some of the most treasured minutes they have behind bars. Grisham said, and you don’t want to disappoint.
“The food inside the jail is the only thing they have to look forward to,” Grisham said.
Each of the three meals served every day cost $1.09 on average. Tarrant County’s three jails housed 3,299 inmates as of Monday. The contractor absorbs the additional costs of the holiday meal at no additional expense to the county, Grisham said.
Special diets on increase
Austin said that during his 20 years in the institutional food preparation and serving business, the number of meals for inmates who need special diets required by medical conditions, allergies, pregnancy and religious preferences have increased.
Out of the 3,500 meals they serve three times daily throughout the Tarrant County jail system during the Thanksgiving holiday, between 150 to 200 during each meal cycle will be prepared for diabetic inmates, Austin said. Between 400 and 500 meals will contain special dietary restrictions, said Patrick Templin, Five-Star regional director.
$1.09 average cost to taxpayers of meals served to inmates at Tarrant County Jail.
Five-Star took over the jail food contract about 2006 replacing MidStates Services, which replaced Aramark, Austin said. The jail experienced some problems in early 2004 when contractor Aramark dispensed inmate food, Grisham said.
Tarrant County purchasing agent Jack Beacham said he paid a surprise visit to the Green Bay facility in February 2004 and saw an Aramark food service worker drop some flour tortillas on the floor and then put them back into the food service line. Food was found being stored at improper temperatures and inmates complained about the lack of variety.
Aramark, the low bidder for the jail food service contract, was replaced after 130 inmates at the Green Bay facility refused to take their meals. Aramark resigned from its $3.3 million contract with Tarrant County in March 2004.
‘We call them spirit-lifters’
Thanksgiving is one of five holiday meals served annually, Austin said.
In Tarrant County inmates get special meals for Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, July Fourth and Memorial Day, Austin said.
“We call them spirit-lifters,” Austin said.
The menu changes for the spirit lifters every year, Austin said. Some government officials choose barbecue for July 4, said Austin. For Easter, some officials choose ham, Austin said. We give them suggestions, but the buyer chooses what they want, Austin said.
Texas prison inmates will also receive special fare on Thanksgiving and Christmas, but not on other holidays, according to Robert Hurst, Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman.
The holiday meal in prison consists of turkey or ham, cornbread dressing, gravy, deviled eggs, mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, black-eyed peas or green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, fruit salad, cole slaw and apple pie or sweet potato pie, Hurst said.
“Preparations for the holiday meals at TDCJ units begins three days before the meal is served,” Hurst said via an emailed statement. “TDCJ Food Service staff and offenders are involved in preparing the meal.”
Texas prison inmates will also receive special fare on Thanksgiving and Christmas, but not on other holidays.
Tarrant County jailers watching the inmates will have Thanksgiving fare as well, including a salad bar and fruit, Grisham said. Relief guards spell the regular correctional officials so that their posts are not abandoned during lunch and other breaks, Grisham said.