In the wake of recent complaints from Santa Barbara County Jail inmates about the quantity and quality of their food — many staged a food strike last July — and consequential concerns from some members of the Board of Supervisors, the Santa Barbara County Grand Jury released a report on Monday declaring that the meals meet state standards. The controversy took root in the summer of 2012, when the county, looking to cut costs for the Sheriff’s Office at the same time that the jail’s sewer and kitchen called for upgrades, contracted out the facility’s food services to Aramark Correctional Services, which has since purchased the jail’s food and set the menu, all the while saving the county about $180,000 a year. (Certain inmates and kitchen staff handle the prep work, cooking, and distribution.)
Inmates would go on to say that the food too often relied on soy substitutes, was too bland, and came in portions too small. But the Grand Jury found otherwise. With breakfasts including cereal and hard-boiled eggs, lunch providing two sandwiches, crudités, and cookies, and dinner consisting of raw and fresh vegetables, cornbread, potatoes or pasta, and a main dish made of either meat or a soy substitute, the report deemed the meals to be heart-healthy and delivering up to 2,500 calories per day. The Grand Jury evaluated the jail’s kitchen and interviewed an Aramark official, also making an unannounced visit to the jail to analyze the meals’ freshness, temperature, taste, and content, all of which it found adheres to the requirements set forth by the state’s Department of Corrections.
“I am pleased with the Santa Barbara County Grand Jury’s findings which validates what we have believed all along: that the food provided to inmates is nutritious, healthy, and comparable to any meal served in large quantities at institutions,” said Sheriff Bill Brown in a statement. The report also noted that the food meets medical and religious requirements when necessary, and that commissary prices are reasonable. In September, four of the supervisors voted to amend the jail’s contract with Aramark, agreeing to increase the food budget by slightly less than previously discussed. According to officials, most inmate meals cost about 90 cents each, with kosher meals and staff meals costing about $3.