Audit says Utah prison overfeeding female inmates

Thursday , March 06, 2014 - 1:40 PM

Antone Clark, Standard-Examiner Correspondent

SALT LAKE CITY — Female prison inmates at Point of the Mountain are getting fat at the state’s expense, an audit said.

The audit includes an in-depth budget review of the Utah Department of Corrections and includes nine findings where the department could improve efficiency and save money.

It includes the premise the department could have saved $1.2 million in the past five years by reducing the food intake of female prisoners from 2,600 calories a day to1,800 calories. It also said the weight gain of female prisoners was higher than male gains, with a 2 percent body mass increase shown in the five-year look at the issue.

The audit also said high levels of obesity hurt the personal earning potential of female prisoners once released and could lead to higher rates of recidivism.

Details of the audit were released before a legislative audit committee Tuesday and drew significant comment.

House Minority Leader Jen Seelig, D-Salt Lake City, bristled at the findings and discussion of caloric intake of inmates. She called the findings “extraordinarily draconian.” She urged auditors to peel back the layers of numbers and find out the whys.

“Are we recognizing why people may be eating certain foods? What about healthy activities? The bottom line is we’re feeding women too much; they’re getting fat and aren’t going to be able to get jobs. That seems a disservice. Can we at least in these evaluations suggest why? It is frightening to me we just leave it at that. It seems very irresponsible,” Seelig said.

Auditor General John Schaff said the caloric reference in the audit was not intended to recommend the state begin starving inmates. it was outlined to simply say there are better ways to deal with the problem than the Corrections Department is using now.

“We agree there are unanswered questions,” Schaff said.

Seelig said it’s important to understand the nature of the problem, in order to realistically address it.

Rollin Cook, Corrections executive director, agreed with Seelig’s assessment of the calorie discussion and pointed out that problems with food behind bars is one of the first things that leads to potential riots.

The department audit went way beyond a discussion of calories. Other key findings in the audit include:

— Corrections leaders told the Legislature in 2011 they could not sustain department cuts without releasing some inmates early, but used vacancies to give staff wage increases.

— The department could have been more transparent to the Legislature about its ability to cut budgets from 2008 to 2011, a time in which the department created a carry-forward balance of $25.2 million.

— Using second-market buys, the prison authority can save as much as $560,000 annually in food costs.

— The department could save as much a $304,000 a year in finding another off-site medical provider.

— The state could save as much as $167,000 a year in comparison shopping for prescription drugs.

— A switch to an electronic claims medical system could save the state as much as $89,000 a year.

— The cost of incarcerating prisoners in state facilities is higher than the cost of keeping inmates in county jails. Approximately 20 percent of the state’s inmates are currently housed in county facilities at a cost of $46.85 a day, while it costs the state $79.44 a day to house an inmate, the audit said.

— the state Division of Correction Industries lacks appropriate measures to prepare inmates for future employment once they are out of prison.Cook said the organization agrees with the findings and has already taken measures to correct the problems. He vowed to make the department more forthright and transparent.

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