Um, okay, Texas. To save money you're going to take away prisoners' lunches on the weekends? Really?
Really. Via the New York Times:
Thousands of other inmates in the Texas prison system have been eating fewer meals since April after officials stopped serving lunch on the weekends in some prisons as a way to cut food-service costs. About 23,000 inmates in 36 prisons are eating two meals a day on Saturdays and Sundays instead of three. A meal the system calls brunch is usually served between 5 and 7 a.m., followed by dinner between 4 and 6:30 p.m.
The meal reductions are part of an effort to trim $2.8 million in food-related expenses from the 2011 fiscal year budget of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, the state prison agency. Other cuts the agency has made to its food service include replacing carton milk with powdered milk and using sliced bread instead of hamburger and hot dog buns.
Prison administrators said that the cuts were made in response to the state’s multibillion-dollar budget shortfall in 2011, and that the weekend lunches were eliminated in consultation with the agency’s health officials and dietitians. Michelle Lyons, an agency spokeswoman, said that inmates with health problems who have been prescribed a therapeutic diet continue to receive three meals per day.
Prison riots can start over something as trivial as a stolen toothbrush, or yes, food. This is why most prisons have decent food and make sure inmates get three square meals a day. So I guess in Texas' case, they're prepared to just shoot first and ask questions later, since riots don't appear to be on their list of concerns.
Also, I'm curious to know whether these cuts were made in Texas private prisons, or the state-run prisons. It seems that the private prisons cost the state a pretty penny, and several were closed in 2011 as part of the budget process. However, others remain open for business as usual.
Texas Governor Rick Perry is a favorite of the private prison industry. After they bankrolled his 2010 re-election bid in large numbers, he tried to take control of the prison decision-making process along with some Republican buddies.
A flurry of privatization bills were introduced by Republican lawmakers during the regular, biannual legislative session, but all of them fizzled out. And then in June, as the Legislature scrambled to put together a budget during a special session, the plan resurfaced in two different pieces of legislation. First, an amendment was attached by a GOP lawmaker to an unrelated bill that would have transferred the authority for the state’s prison health care board to Perry by giving him the power to appoint the majority of the committee members. That proposal, which was jettisoned after it came to light, would have effectively given the governor's office the power to unilaterally make sweeping changes to the system.
"There was no evidence that it could be done cheaper," says state Rep. Jerry Madden, a Republican, who chairs the House corrections subcommittee and worked to have the language removed. A second proposal, a few days later, would have explicitly granted the corrections agency the power to solicit bids for prison health care services but not mandated it.
Earlier, Perry’s office had floated another proposal that seemed designed to please the private-prison industry. It sought to eliminate the independence of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards and fold it, along with two other public-safety commissions, into a single agency. The governor’s office justified the move, which ultimately fell short, as a spending measure, a chance to eliminate bureaucratic redundancies. But critics saw a pattern.
"One of the things that the commission has always wanted is to have control over the private prisons," says Ana Yanez-Correa, executive director of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, which monitors prison reform in the Lone Star State. "Obviously [the governor’s office] didn’t like that, so this session they tried to dilute the power of the commission by merging it with two other entities."
And, as expected, lawmakers have a retort for critics, too:
State Senator John Whitmire, a Democrat and chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee whose outrage over last meals on death row led to the end of the practice last month, said the reductions were not a major concern to him. “If they don’t like the menu,” he said, “don’t come there in the first place.”
I wonder how those private prison companies would feel about that?