In the early 2000s, the Texas Legislature actually passed a general session law requiring the state prison system to purchase the “best quality” foods available. Presumably there is a similar federal statute applicable to the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), the only prison system in the United States that is larger than the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ).
According to a March 2, 2020, report by BOP’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG), the BOP does not have any quality assurance plan to ensure the foods offered to its prisoners meet industry or legal standards.
To illustrate just how serious the feds have seemingly become concerning the safety of the foods it serves prisoners, a plethora of criminal prosecutions against vendors of substandard food products began in 2014.
In February 2020, two executives of West Texas Provisions, Inc., in Amarillo, Texas, were sentenced to 46- and 42-month terms in the BOP. The two had conspired to sell over “775,000 pounds of uninspected, adulterated meat — including whole cow hearts labeled as ‘ground beef’— to 32 federal prisons in 18 states,” govexec.com reports.
TDCJ regularly serves “beef” under the moniker of “Italian Beef.” One prisoner characterized his sole attempt to eat “Italian Beef” as akin to trying to chew on one of those “old Wham-O brand Superballs.”
Apparently the TDCJ does not have any kind of quality assurance plan to ensure the foods offered to its prisoners meet industry or legal standards. TDCJ currently consists of 110 prison units housing 142,000 prisoners, with two of its units scheduled to be shuttered during summer 2020.
What is more surprising is in the most carceral, litigious country on the planet, the federal BOP does not have a quality assurance plan for incoming foods. Historical data for 2019 shows BOP prepared 479,000 daily meals. With its current population of 180,000 prisoners, that equates to 540,000 meals daily. There is a risk of food-related illnesses from contaminated meats, adulterated spices or bad supplies.
In the TDCJ system, all food supplies are delivered to a central location, then distributed to its 110 units. BOP’s 122 units are more autonomous, receiving food supplies directly from approved vendors. One of the many shortcomings the OIG pointed out in its report was the absence of a reporting system whereby one unit could communicate problems with a vendor to the rest of the units in the BOP.
In response, BOP announced its thanks to the OIG for pointing out these problems and stated it is reviewing the report.
Sources: govexec.com, reuters.com, Texas Standard News, personal interviews
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