In the Best of times, Jail Food Is Not Winning Any Awards. These Are Not the Best of Times.

Since the start of the pandemic in March of 2020, hot meals have been suspended in Orange County jails. The initial decision was based on a lack of inmate work crews and a desire to avoid contact in the dining halls and food preparation areas of the jail.

My clients have reported, for the last two years, being fed bologna sandwiches three times a day. County officials insist they have begun to reintegrate other options and some warm meals, but these claims are apparently made based on the intermittent offering of warm cereal or oatmeal and a cold hard-boiled egg in the morning.

The conditions have already contributed to a hunger strike among inmates. Now reports are circulating that the bologna sandwiches are sometimes being served on soggy, moldy bread with rotten meat.

Fyodor Dostoevsky once wrote, “the degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.” The Crime and Punishment author knew of what he spoke having been imprisoned in Siberia for 4 years. There’s a line somewhere that delineates coddling inmates from simply treating them with the basic humanity that all humans are entitled to. Starving and poisoning inmates falls well to the wrong side of that line.

And in case you think to yourself, “well they are doing the best they can,” last year the Sheriff’s Department left a million dollars that were budgeted for inmate food unspent. Nor can the department even blame the pandemic for all of its shortcomings, a 2017 report from the Department of Homeland Security identified the service of spoiled food as an issue already occurring in the jails.

It seems clear that the powers that be in the Sheriff’s Department care very little about the health and safety of people housed in its jails. The Board of Supervisors should take a different approach before a lawsuit forced them to.

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