Tahlequah Daily Press

October 29, 2012

CCDC nutrition allowances not a concern


TAHLEQUAH — Most parents are concerned about the food their children are served at school. But given the revamped federal food guidelines and the qualifications of those in charge of child nutrition programs at Cherokee County schools and Northeastern State University, local parents know they have nothing to worry about.

There’s another place here where institutional food is prepared three times a day, in considerable quantities. While school cafeteria food is often in the spotlight, for better or for worse, few people worry about what’s being put on trays at the local jail.

A woman recently questioned the quality and quantity of food being given to inmates at the Cherokee County Detention Center. She said a relative of hers had lost 30 pounds while behind bars.

Such allegations are worth taking seriously. While the average area resident might be tempted to dismiss culinary concerns for those who have committed a crime, the more cavalier among us should try to remember the inmates still deserve humane treatment and care. After all, they are the loved ones of others who live and work here. Many of them have psychological problems, are down on their luck, or made a mistake. Not all are career criminals, or violent ones.

In light of the report, Staff Writer Josh Newton dropped by the jail to talk to Administrator Loyd Bickel and other employees and inmates. His story is available at http://tinyurl.com/csnx2os.

The immediate impression was that accommodations at the facility – the infamous “three hots and a cot” – are not only more than adequate for anyone cooling his heels for either a serious crime or public misbehavior, but they’re a considerable step up from the living arrangements to which many poverty-stricken people in this area are accustomed.

Josh observed Jean Bell preparing the meals. Jean is no semi-skilled short-order cook; she holds culinary and criminal justice degrees and is working on her master’s. She follows standards similar to those of public schools – standards that generally exceed those of other jails in Oklahoma. For instance, local inmates get 6- to 8-ounce servings at meals, while other detention facilities offer 3- to 4-ounce servings. Bell says most inmates weigh more when they leave than when they come in. Presumably, some inmates are affected because they can no longer access certain drugs like methamphetamines that tend to discourage eating.

If general statistics apply to jail populations, many people are likely overweight when they’re booked. At the CCDC, a licensed dietitian signs off on the menus to ensure food value and caloric intake, which the government sets at 1,500 to 1,600 per day. Those details just happen to dovetail physician recommendations for people who want to lose weight or improve their eating habits.

Families of CCDC inmates may have other issues to worry about from time to time, as past news stories would suggest – but the quantity and quality of the food doesn’t appear to be among those things. If CCDC inmates are shedding pounds, that might be a positive byproduct of their stay.