By Chris Zoukis

Arkansas’ Benton County Jail has, for years, served its prisoners three cold meals a day.  It has been doing so despite several lawsuits, and renewed requests that it serve hot meals, from the community.  The jail had no plans to serve its prisoners hot food, especially since the jail has been told to cut its budget by 3 percent this year.

Benton County Jail’s policy is consistent with a national trend, as reported by PLN, in which jails and prisons are striving to feed prisoners less.  Some jails and prisons serve prisoners only two meals a day, and others use replacement meals to lower costs and as punitive measures.

Keshia Guyll, with the Benton County Sheriffs, stated, “It’s food . . . would I want to eat it?  Probably not.  But, you know, it’s a jail, they are here for a reason.”  Guyll further stated, “It would cost between $30,000 and $40,000 to acquire the necessary equipment to heat food and an additional $100,000 in food costs . . . it’s just not feasible.”  Guyll added, “The Sheriff is not ready to ask the citizens of Benton County to spend more in taxes to serve the prisoners hot meals.”

However, a local church, the All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Bentonville, led by Vicar Rev. Roger Joslin, has said it “Would consider donating funds if it meant serving hot food to prisoners.”  Joslin further stated, “They are our children . . . we want them to be treated humanely.”  Joslin said he is passionate about helping prisoners get hot food.  The money could come from the community or from the jail’s commissary revenue, so the county wouldn’t have to spend more on the service.

A typical daily menu at the Benton County Jail consists of fruit, cold cereal, hardboiled egg, and coffee cake with whipped margarine for breakfast; ham salad with Miracle Whip on wheat bread with shredded lettuce, gelatin, and milk for lunch; and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on wheat bread, potato salad, and a cookie for dinner.  These cold meals cost about 89 cents per tray, Guyll said.  The Washington County Detention Center serves three hot meals a day at about $1.16 per tray, said Maj. Randall Denzer, jail administrator.  Guyll said that the prisoners are provided about 2,700 calories a day, according to their dietitian.

Denzer stated they “believe serving hot food has other benefits that create a safer jail atmosphere.  Inmates are at all-time lows when they get to jail and don’t need much to overreact.”  In a July email provided by Joslin, it was said that the switch to hot food at the jail should be considered despite problems because “it is the right thing to do.”

In March 2015, hot meals finally came to the Benton County jail after a change in Arkansas’ Criminal Detention Facility Standards.

Sources: https://www.5newsonline.com/, www.nwaonline.com

This article originally appeared in Prison Legal News in August 2016.

About Christopher Zoukis, MBA

Christopher Zoukis, MBA, is the Managing Director of the Zoukis Consulting Group, a federal prison consultancy that assists attorneys, federal criminal defendants, and federal prisoners with prison preparation, in-prison matters, and reentry. His books include Directory of Federal Prisons (Middle Street Publishing, 2020), Federal Prison Handbook (Middle Street Publishing, 2017), Prison Education Guide (PLN Publishing, 2016), and College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Company, 2014).