Friday, June 25, 2010

Michigan: Cutting Inmate Meals Could Save $50 Million

How about this idea for cutting state and local budgets--don't feed the prison inmates or at least don't feed them as much. The Detroit Free-Press is reporting that the department of corrections in Michigan has launched a pilot program to cut the cost of furnishing meals to inmates.

The Michigan Department of Corrections cost-saving plan could go statewide as early as this fall. The cost cutting steps include standardizing menus and ordering food in bulk. The department of corrections' pilot programs in some sites have shown a 30-percent savings.

The programs, in part, stem from the Michigan auditor general's 2008 audit of prisoner food services that states the corrections department should consider additional ways to reduce the costs of providing prisoner meals.

The Free-Press further reported that Rana Elmir, communications director with the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, said "prisoner food must be in accordance with the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment -- for instance, an inmate cannot be forced to eat food that he/she is allergic to or that is contaminated -- and the First Amendment's freedom of religion claim, which demands prisons supply inmates with food following their deeply held religious requirements."

My Take

How much money can be saved by standardizing menus and buying in bulk?

Some estimates suggest that it cost about $7,500 a year to feed a single inmate. Michigan has about 45,000 prisoners in state prison. Although the pilot programs in Michigan have shown a savings of as much as 30-percent, we'll use a more modest 15-percent to figure out the savings. A cut back in meal costs could save Michigan about $50 million a year.

With a $2 billion dollar annual budget and a $46 million budget overrun for this fiscal year, Michigan should waste no time in cutting back on inmate meals. Every state in the country should closely study the results of Michigan's effort in involuntary portion control.

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