Food: Budget cuts force Lane County Jail to change tactics with its food service

The Lane County Corrections facility is seen from W 5th Ave & Olive Street in downtown Eugene. (Michael Arellano/Emerald)

The Lane County Corrections facility is seen from W 5th Ave & Olive Street in downtown Eugene. (Michael Arellano/Emerald)

Posted by Lucas Currie on Monday, Mar. 18 at 2:25 pm.

Loss of federal funding and money in the county’s general fund has forced the Lane County Correctional Facility to reduce spending in a number of ways — laying off employees, releasing inmates and removing bunks from the establishment among them. In an additional measure to cope with financial difficulties, Lane County completely overhauled its jail’s food service program two years ago.

In 2011, the county signed a contract with ABL Management, Inc, a leader in correctional food service management, which made the external company entirely responsible for food production and distribution inside the jail.

The switch to ABL, which employs inmates to prepare meals instead of county staff, saves the county more than 49,000 hours of paid labor and about $400,000 annually.

“Utilizing inmates allows for a learning environment where (inmates) can learn to work in groups, follow recipes and learn other culinary skills applicable to the real world,” said Sgt. Carrie Carver, public information coordinator at the Lane County Sheriff’s Office. “It’s also a cost saving measure.”

These cost-saving measures seem to be a trademark of the program as the entire system is built around cost efficiency — ABL imports competitively-purchased ingredients in bulk and uses free inmate labor to prepare and distribute food. The average meal in 2012, including both personnel and raw food expenditures, cost only $1.54.

“The menu is reviewed by a dietician to ensure compliance with laws and to maintain caloric count, ensure dietary needs are met, etc.” Carver said.

Under ORS 169.076, Oregon law demands that inmates be fed “nutritionally adequate meals in accordance with a plan reviewed by a registered dietitian.” ABL’s menus comply with specifications and requirements set by the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Science, American Correctional Association, American Medical Association, National Sheriff’s Association and the National Commission for the Correctional Health Care.

The jail does not, however, offer alternate menus, such as vegetarian dishes, unless an inmate’s need is medically or religiously-based due to the additional expenditures.

As the Lane County Correctional Facility faces an additional $2 million in budget cuts and more significant cost-saving measures this July, its food service program seems to operate in the most cost-effective manner, as each of the jail’s 1,219 daily meals cost the county fewer than $2.