Tahlequah Daily Press

Local News

October 25, 2012

Three hots and a cot

TAHLEQUAH — Administrators at the Cherokee County Detention Center expect to occasionally hear from people who worry about the well-being of incarcerated family members and friends – especially what type of food they’re being served.

Administrator Loyd Bickel said a concerned mother recently called to say her son had lost 10 pounds during his jail stay in Cherokee County.

“So we went back and got him, we weighed him, and he’d actually gained 9 pounds,” said Bickel.

Local resident Darla Hall recently asked the Press to check into the meal plan at CCDC. Hall said one of her family members lost nearly 30 pounds because of the food served during a six-week stay at the jail facility. She indicated the family member was later set to be moved to a federal prison.

All inmates are weighed when they enter CCDC, according to Bickel. Keeping track of that information helps jail administrators, health care officials and others sort out potential problems that could arise.

The facility cook operates from a prepared menu that outlines the meals to be cooked and served each day of the week.

“Probably 75 percent of the people we have incarcerated have a substance issue,” said Bickel. “What we find that goes hand-in-hand with that is poor diet and that they are not on their medications. So we get them in the jail, and we get them back on their meds, and get them back on their food, and they get cleaned up. Most have gained weight, and I’d say many of them can’t wear their clothes when they leave.”

Assistant Administrator T.J. Girdner sees the same change in inmates who are being discharged. Those booked into jail with substance-abuse problems typically gain weight just because of the detoxification that occurs.

Cook Jean Bell is responsible for ensuring inmates receive three hot meals a day at CCDC, though the state requires only two of the three daily meals to be hot, according to Bickel.  He said the detention center serves a sandwich for lunch on Sundays because of the constant fluctuation in inmate numbers over the weekends.

Bell holds a number of degrees, including one culinary degree and one in the criminal-justice field, and is working on a master’s degree. She spends Monday through Friday working with inmate trustees to prepare the meals. On-duty supervisors handle weekend meals, though Bell prepares the needed items before the weekend, Bickel said.

“[Many inmates] definitely weigh more when they leave here,” said Bell. “We eat a lot of beans, a lot of potatoes, a lot of starches, a lot of protein. We have three hot meals a day, so they get fed.”

One inmate trustee who was helping prepare meals Wednesday acknowledged he showed up at CCDC weighing less, but gained weight by getting “cleaned up” and eating the food.

CCDC has about a $9,000-per-month budget for food. Inmates receive 6- and 8-ounce servings for each meal, while other detention facilities in Oklahoma often provide 3- or 4-ounce servings.

“I just can’t see doing that. As a matter of fact, not long ago, I went back and asked for a little more money, and they gave me more money for food,” said Bickel.

Jail personnel also cater to inmates with medical or religious needs, according to Bell and Bickel.

“We, of course, have a menu signed off by a licensed dietitian to meet the right caloric intake,” said Bickel. “[The government] wants us to aim for that 1,500- to 1,600-calorie intake. We feed heavier at night because it’s better for inmates.”

 Food is purchased from Ben E. Keith. Breakfast menu items at CCDC include foods such as toast and jelly, fruits, rice, scrambled eggs, oats, and biscuits, with water or milk for a drink.

Lunches feature food like burritos, Spanish rice, chicken strips, mashed potatoes and gravy, and hamburgers, with choices of water or fruit drinks.

Dinners each week may be spaghetti, chicken and rice, beans, macaroni and tomatoes, chili and beans, and more. Meals for lunch and dinner also include fruits and vegetables and snacks like Jell-O or pudding.

“Like [Wednesday], we have what we call chick a la king; it’s three biscuits, it’s chicken, it’s corn, it’s mashed potatoes; it’s a heavy meal,” said Bickel.

Bickel said CCDC has a grievance process to address complaints about the meals or other issues. If staff members can’t address a situation, it is passed on to either Bickel or Girdner. When administrators learn of medical needs that affect meal plans, Bell receives that information and changes the food for that particular inmate.

Inmates are also allowed commissary accounts to purchase from a large list of snacks and beverages like beef jerky, candy bars, tea, chips and more. They can buy clothing items, personal-hygiene products, and various other products.

“The cost of candy bars and those types of products are pretty close to what you’ll pay in a convenience store,” said Bickel.

Candy, for instance, costs $1.42; most other snack foods cost less than $1 or no more than $1.38. Tuna, tortilla shells, toaster pastries, refried beans, and other products are also available.

Bickel said commissary orders can be made once a week.


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