BENTON COUNTY (KFSM) – The Benton County Jail is going to keep serving cold meals to inmates, after officials found out they don’t have enough money in their budget to switch to hot meals.
Officials said inmates in the Benton County Jail are some of the only ones in the state of Arkansas to get all three meals—breakfast, lunch and dinner—served cold.
“I’ts food,” said Keshia Guyll, with the Benton County Sheriff’s Office. “Would I want to eat it every day? Probably not. But, you know, this is a jail. They are here for a reason.”
The Benton County Sheriff’s Office recently had their food distributor write a proposal to find out how much hot meals would cost.
“We wanted people to know that this isn’t just solely a punitive measure, serving inmates cold food,” Guyll said. “There’s other things that go along with that, and like I said, budget is one of the main ones.”
Guyll said she hopes members of the public look at the proposal and realize why it’s difficult for jails to find the money to serve hot food.
“In doing that proposal, it shows what it costs to serve cold food versus what it’s going to cost to serve hot food,” she said. “Hopefully, it will help the citizens understand a little bit better why we don’t do it. It’s just not feasible.”
If the Benton County Jail were to go from serving cold meals to hot meals, they would need new equipment. That would come at a price tag of between $30,000 and $40,000, Guyll said. Food costs would add another $100,000.
“Recently we’ve been asked by the Quorum Court to come up with a way we can cut our budget,” Guyll said. “That’s not a big thing to ask. There’s creative ways to do that. However, being asked to cut our budget and it costing approximately $30,000 to $40,000 just to get the equipment needed to serve hot meals, is just not feasible.”
Guyll continued, “The sheriff is not ready to ask the citizens of Benton County to spend more in their taxes to serve the inmates hot meals.”
Jorge Keene, a booking sergeant, has worked in the jail for four years. He said all meals are designed by a registered dietitian.
“Surely they are going to get tired of it if they are here for an extended period of time, but nutrition-wise, it’s what they need,” he said. “They get a certain amount of calories every day. You are always going to have the guys that come in here and complain and whine about it. More often than not, you don’t hear much about it.”
“We meet all health code requirements and they are fed accordingly,” Guyll said. “With our food being designed by a registered dietitian, we go above what the standard is. I want to say it’s around 2,300 calories a day. Our inmates get about 2,700.”
It’s not a requirement for county jails in Arkansas to serve hot meals. So, even though hot meals are not in the plans for Benton County now, Guyll said they could be in the future.
“If the laws change and the rules change to where they mandate that county jails serve hot food, we will absolutely do that,” she said.