Illinois prisons evaluating meals

By Alex Davis |

Published 09/16 2013 09:59PM

Updated 09/18 2013 09:46AM

SPRINGFIELD -- Some Illinois' prisons will be swapping three meals a day for two. The Department of Corrections is expanding a program that's already in place at two facilities. WCIA-3's Alex Davis has the story.

With this change, inmates at some facilities will get brunch and dinner instead of the traditional schedule which includes breakfast, lunch and dinner. In exchange for missing a meal, they’ll be served bigger portions during those meal times.

Charles McKinney can easily recall the prison food he refused to eat during his time behind hard.

"Tacos, mystery meat, cold cuts. There was five meals I never ate. I ate it one time and that was it," said McKinney.

But McKinney says if more prisons switch to a two meal a day plan, more inmates might have to force down their meals or choose to go without.

"Some men already go hungry if they skip a meal, because they don't like the food or can't afford to buy snacks from the commissary,” said McKinney.

Tom Shaer, spokesperson for IDOC says food is served to the inmates in uniform service amounts. He says it’s a, “take everything, leave what you choose,” style.

“IDOC has no reports of inmates skipping meals and going hungry because they don’t like the food,” said Shaer.

Since January, two state prisons and work camps have cut out breakfast and lunch. They only serve brunch and dinner, and soon, more than a dozen may follow suit.

"You know, we barely eat the food as it is, so having larger portions may not be beneficial," said McKinney.

Not every inmate may like the idea, but the change may make for a safer environment for guards and other prison staff.

“The overwhelming majority of inmates are in favor of the brunch system,” said Shaer.

Regional Director of AFSCME Council 31 Kent Beauchamp says the changes will also improve security measures.

“Security is a problem and when you have inmates moving from housing units to the dining hall less often, the result is increased security."

Under the current system, minimum security prisons might serve breakfast as early as 4 am, forcing guards to monitor their movement in dark, morning hours.

“This avoids 4 am wake-ups and breakfasts,” said Shaer. “Neither inmates nor officers like walking inmates from cell units to the dining building on cold and dark early winter mornings.”

Beauchamp says it will create a more secure institution. McKinney says, even if inmates do not adapt well to the change, they really have no say at this point.

"You know, if you don't like the conditions, if you don't like the food, don't come to prison,” said McKinney.

IDOC says meals will still contain the same number of calories, and it will still be up to inmates to pick and choose what they eat off their plates.

“Inmates will get the same amount of food, enough calories for adult males, as recommended by the U.S. Government and the IDOC’s dieticians,” said Shaer.

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