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Food & Agriculture
By Terry Campbell, Professor, Purdue University Global
Published: 06/22/2020

Food Our June topic looks at ‘Food & Agriculture’ in corrections. These two areas are very important. I will cover the following topics in this article: Legal Issues; Meal Preparation; Dietary Concerns (Nutritious, Religious, and Medical Requirements); Safety and Security Concerns; Prison Farm and Agriculture; and COVID-19. These topics are not in any particular order.

COVID-19 has certainly created many challenges for all corrections areas. Since we are focusing on ‘Food & Agriculture,’ I will limit comments to these corrections areas. As you know from the media and your corrections facilities; inmates and staff (uniform and non-uniform staff) are tested and the number of positive cases continues to increase. This impacts all areas of corrections and yet corrections is still mandated to provide meals, medical, and some other services. We have also seen many systems requiring staff to be housed in the facility. Meanwhile, correction staff continues to perform their assigned duties.

COVID has added to the many challenges and stress, inmates and staff face daily. This includes trying to maintain social distancing. I am sure we will see an increase in the number of lawsuits filed against staff and facilities. Food service is one of the many critical corrections components. We need to recognize our food service staff and note their importance to meeting dietary requirements. Like so many other corrections staff, they are often in positions where the ‘pats on back’ are few. As mentioned previously, COVID has impacted corrections in many ways. Yet, dietary needs still must be met along with daily meals. Some food service staff and inmates have tested positive for COVID. We know inmates assigned to food service must meet certain classification and medical criteria. When we look across the country and note cases in our correctional systems, we recognize daily operations to some extent are still in place. Safety, security, and sanitation are a must. Corrections learned a long time ago, if there is going to be a problem, this likely will occur with food service and large number of inmates being fed in the dining halls.

Daily food service and security concerns are standard practice. We found ourselves often short on supplies, daily operations affected by quarantines, changes in movement of inmates, increased meals being served in the barracks, still having to meet medical and other dietary concerns, meal preparation, etc. The daily stressors are already in place and compounded even more with COVID.

Some correctional systems have agriculture operations including some of the following; row crops, raising cattle, poultry, swine, vegetable gardens, feed for animals, slaughter houses, vegetable processing plants, dairy operations, and other. Large scale operations also are impacted in many ways from the COVID pandemic. These operations are a tremendous resource to our corrections systems and definitely helpful in controlling food costs. Yes, we also saw inmates assigned to these areas and farm employees also affected by COVID.

Prisons, as well as society, faced shortages in many supplies including disposable trays, plastic spoons, forks, cups, etc. Yet, through the cooperation of all correctional entities, all employees came together to ensure meals were being served. Something else we need to consider is the food supply chain. Many food manufactures employees also tested for COVID. This caused a disruption in food processing from picking and processing vegetables to processing meat, then the issue of getting the food items to market and delivery. As you know, many of our own communities are experiencing food shortages and food pantries across the country are being maxed out. These same experiences we face are not only in our country, but a global concern.

Medical professionals are working tirelessly in trying to develop a COVID vaccination. This is occurring while in the next several months we will begin flu shots. So many parts of our country and prison systems have been shut down, and we are now experiencing some businesses reopening, while many businesses do not have that option. Depending on who you listen to, social distancing is decreasing and some areas are facing an increase in the number of COVID cases. This also includes our prisons. Even with emergency plans in place, the widespread and rapidly increases in COVID cases were not anticipated. Some additional areas to consider are educational programs, not only in our prisons, but in our communities. Educational systems across the country are trying to develop plans to reopen our schools by fall. While looking at food service in/out of our prisons, many of our children received breakfast and lunch while at school. This was disrupted and schools made some accommodations to still try and provide meals for the children who otherwise would not receive, or have limited meals, at home. Point being, this carried over to our prisons food service programs and child nutrition. We do have a large percentage of inmates incarcerated under the age of 21.

Resources have been strained and, in corrections, we still must meet the food requirements for all inmates. This includes services while at the same time attempting to control for social distancing and increase in number of inmate and staff COVID cases. Even though corrections has been stretched thin and at times near the breaking point, all staff are still trying to provide the services and control for daily and additional safety and security concerns.

Keep up the good work,
Terry

Terry Campbell is a criminal justice professor at Purdue University Global and has more than 20 years of experience in corrections and policing. He has served in various roles, including prison warden and parole administrator, for the Arkansas Department of Corrections. Terry may be reached at tcampbell@purdueglobal.edu.

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