Stir crazy

One of the toughest jobs a foodservice consultant can face is designing foodservice solutions in correctional facilities. Howard Riell talks to consultants who have risen to the challenge

The differences between correctional foodservice and all other segments can be pretty stark. Nowhere else are problems with menu, meal cost, meal delivery and kitchen and equipment design as likely to result in knifings, gang violence or lawsuits. Over-the-top, but absolutely necessary security measures, safety issues, unbending budgets, painstaking nutritional requirements and petulant if not actively hostile kitchen workers can make simply serving lunch and dinner a dangerous proposition.

According to the National Institute of Corrections in the US, approximately 10 million people are incarcerated worldwide. But if the prison industry is a growth business anywhere, it’s the US. According to estimates from the American Civil Liberties Union, the US – with 5% of the world’s population – accounts for 25% of the world’s prison population. The Bureau of Justice Statistics notes that one in 34 American adults was a probate, parolee or prisoner at the end of 2011. And as Digital Journal reported in February 2013, despite a slight reduction during 2012, there are more than two million people in the US either in jail or awaiting trial. In three decades the federal prison population has soared by nearly 800%.

What that means for foodservice consultants is opportunity. But to take advantage of it they need to know the challenges – including the nitty-gritty reality of life behind bars – and devise solutions that fall within strict budgetary guidelines.

Targeted outcome

“I am a management consultant,” explains Daniel Louis Meili FCSI, EMBA, whose consultancy is in Basel, Switzerland. “The challenges faced depend on what mission the prison has. Is it a remand centre? Is it to punish the prisoners? Is it to resocialise inmates? These are questions I ask.”

In each case, Meili points out, the targeted outcome is different, so the kitchen will be different to design, too. He says: “A prison where the inmates should have the chance to do an apprenticeship must offer a kitchen to learn/practice/work with more ‘employees’ than necessary.” Operators also have to establish a security concept to protect prisoners, visitors and staff.

“For a prison just to punish people you have to ask if a kitchen is necessary,” Meili adds. Costs must also be factored in. “If the mission is to reintegrate people, society is willing to spend more money and the design of the kitchen will be totally different.”

The difference in foodservice between jails and prisons “is significant”, says John Cornyn FCSI, vice president of Brailsford & Dunlavey in Beaverton, Oregon. “For the majority of jails and prisons, the use of inmate labour is critical to keeping the cost per meal down. In jails you have a significantly higher turnover of inmates, so the use of inmates in the kitchen is problematic since you don’t get them for very long. In the prison system you have some inmates who are going to be there for the rest of their lives. You have to be vigilant in the manner in which they are supervised.”

When designing a kitchen with security in mind, Cornyn says, begin by creating a larger space than normal because of the way prisons purchase their foodstuffs. “Instead of buying produce that is already processed and ready to serve they’ll buy it in a raw state and have inmates do all the chopping, slicing and dicing by hand. You have to create work stations that are physically separated from each other, with tethered knives so prisoners can’t do any damage except to themselves.”

Equipment must also be inmate-proofed. “Manufacturers have corrections packages that they can put on their equipment,” Cornyn explains. “For example, on a convection oven they might have a panel that closes and blocks off the control systems so the inmates can’t start messing with those.”

As Cornyn and his colleagues tell their clients, the foodservice programmes they operate have to be legally defensible in court. “As you know, inmates have a lot of time on their hands, and if they find a reason to file a lawsuit or a class action lawsuit regarding foodservice they will do it.” Thus, the menus have to comply with contemporary nutritional standards; in the US, that means the Institute of Medicine of the US National Academy of Sciences’ recommended daily allowance.

Meals must be properly prepared, Cornyn emphasizes. “You have to make sure all portions are adequate to meet nutritional requirements.” For example, a spaghetti sauce calls for two ounces of protein per portion. “If there are a thousand inmates you need to make sure at least 2,000 ounces of protein went into the product.”

How can a foodservice consultant stand out when competing for a project? “Everybody is concerned with energy efficiency, use of water, anything along those lines,” says Cornyn. “A consultant should be able to add significant value and cost-justify their fee.”

Jails vs prisons

From the outset, consultants in the US need to recognise the difference between jails and prisons, insists James H Petersen Jr FCSI, and principal of C.i.i. Food Service Design, a food facilities design consulting firm in Lapeer, Michigan, and chairman of FCSI The Americas. “A jail is a more local facility, like a city or a county,” says Petersen, “where people are generally serving terms of a year or less.”

In state and federal prisons across the US, Petersen points out, inmates are normally required to engage in some type of employment. “They may be getting educational credits, and/or they might have a job around the facility, such as gardening or foodservice.”

In a prison setting, kitchens are staffed by inmate labour with civilian supervisors, notes Petersen, who has worked on 47 correctional projects to date. In a jail, there is not enough time to train them adequately. “They find things to keep them busy, but it’s watching TV or playing cards, generally not foodservice. Maybe the trustees will unload trucks, that sort of thing.”

The biggest difference, of course, is in the level of security needed. In a jail, Petersen points out, “since it’s mostly civilian kitchen staff except for a few trusted inmates, security is not as much of a problem. It’s not only the custody of the inmates, but also things such as whether they can take out contraband like potato skins to make home brew. Or theft, vandalism, fighting, finding or using weapons or putting somebody’s head into a mixer.”

In a multi-classification prison with several custody levels, jobs in the kitchen are often given to more trustworthy inmates. In fact, problems could potentially come from having hardcore prisoners being served “by the guys who are in there for something like embezzlement.”

“We have done quite a bit of work with the prison service in Scotland,” says Duncan Hepburn FCSI of Hepburn Associates in Gloucester, UK, “surveying and reporting on the standard of some new-build kitchens, and then the technical input into a Catering Standards document for them.” Unfortunately, he continues, trying to get the Prison Service in Scotland or the rest of the UK to consider engaging a consultant “comes up against all the usual arguments and lack of understanding”.

The main challenges, according to Hepburn, depend on whether or not a penal institution is using inmates to do the cooking. The prison officials need to be able to see prisoners for as much of the time as possible, he points out, which means the kitchen must be laid out with clear lines of sight, with no corners in which inmates could hide. “Your central island with a bank of 20 or 40 rack combis can pose a problem,” Hepburn says. “It ideally should be designed in banks against a wall.”

Knives must obviously be secured, which means a so-called shadow board in the chef’s office is required. Construction materials must be handled immediately, and drainage channels require bolted-down ladder gratings. Objects, including the inmates themselves, can be stashed inside a combi oven, he warns. “I have seen someone hiding themselves with a hammer inside an oven, resulting in bad damage to the door because of the person trying to get out as the oven had been turned on.”

Consultants can offer all the knowledge and experience they have in kitchen design, Hepburn says, with all the benefits they offer any other type of client. But are correctional institutions a growth area for foodservice consultants?

“In the UK it’s difficult,” Hepburn admits. “There are area catering advisers in the Prison Service who get involved in the projects, and who get the equipment suppliers or manufacturers to assist with the layout of equipment. We all understand the problem with that – they may only look at the immediate area and not think about the overall project, process and operation – so there are always things that could be done better.” He believes “far too much” importance is placed on the capital cost rather than operating and life-cycle costs.

“It is getting better in the UK, but it has taken 25 years,” says Hepburn. “I’ve been visiting UK prisons in a catering role on and off over that time. In Scotland they are a little earlier in the process and at least they do now have a catering brief and some form of standard requirements.”

The other issue, Hepburn contends, is that “a number of our more recent prisons have been built with private finance, and therefore the squeeze on capital expenditures has been even greater. I am not sure how it works in other areas of the world; I imagine it differs greatly from country to country.”

Hepburn remains convinced that consultants are a resource that corrections officials should make use of. “There is much we can offer. Would we be allowed to help or even get our foot in the door? That’s a whole different matter.”

Rigorous and highly secured

Correctional foodservice requires close attention to food handling and appropriate equipment selection for the “rigorous and highly-secured environment”, according to Stephen K Young FCSI, principal and director of design at William Caruso & Associates (WC&A) Inc in Denver, Colorado. Balancing between efficiencies and high-security conditions, he recounts, can be challenging. Understanding the nutritional needs and requirements of inmates – men, women, juveniles, and both temporarily and terminally-ill inmates – is of course vital.

Designing food production, assembly and delivery processes to work within a secured and highly controlled environment is difficult, Young adds. More than 250 of the 2,400+ projects WC&A has worked on over the past 30 years involved correctional facilities, from private prison and jails to US Marshall jails, county/state/federal prison/jails, and correctional healthcare facilities.

Overcoming the unique challenges found in a correctional setting involves “understanding the goals and objectives of the correctional system first, and the security level of the user, the inmate, second,” Young believes. Before taking on a correctional project for the first time, he suggests, a foodservice consultant must understand correctional personnel and food safety.

Under the heading of personnel safety elements, he includes:

  • Providing a kitchen design with no ‘blind spots’.
  • Providing heavy-duty equipment, including prison packages compatible with the custody level.
  • Prudent equipment selection if inmates are working in the kitchen or exposed to equipment. Keeping security concerns in mind when purchasing and designing equipment is critical.

Among food safety elements, Young identifies:

  • Providing built-in time and temperature control points to assure food safety. This could include temperature-monitoring systems and dependable meal rethermalisation and transport systems.
  • Controlling elements that would make it more difficult to monitor inmates.
  • Having the correct food-handling equipment on hand – from refrigerated holding to properly sized food-processing and cooking appliances and safe, efficient meal-assembly and delivery systems.

These details can mean the difference between life and death in a correctional setting. In the end, it is a consultant’s experience of the realities of life behind bars – the fight for survival that extends even into kitchens and dining areas – that will get him the project.

Howard Riell


The UK approach

The Clink Restaurant at HMP High Down, near Banstead in Surrey, England, was officially opened in 2009 as the first public restaurant in the UK to open at a prison.

With reoffending such a prominent issue in the UK, The Clink Charity was developed to help offenders break the cycle of crime by empowering them with self-belief, work place skills and qualifications.

Training in a professional environment ensures prisoners reach the required level to succeed in the industry. The restaurant operates a strict ‘one strike’ policy. Each trainee works in a similar environment to that of a four or five-star hotel or commercial restaurant in preparation for employment beyond the prison walls.

Prisoners work a 40-hour week and train for qualifications in food preparation, front-of-house service and cleaning before returning to their cells.

Much of the fruit, vegetables and herbs used are grown and harvested by prisoners working in the farms and gardens, where they train towards qualifications in horticulture, agriculture and farming.

Upon release, The Clink Charity helps graduates find employment within the hospitality industry and mentors them weekly for six to 12 months.

In 2011, The Clink Charity reduced the national reoffending rate from 47% to just 12.5% after one full year of release and are hoping for a further reduction to just 3.8%* by December this year.

Through the involvement of Vic Laws MBE FCSI, who is the Restaurant Ambassador for The Clink, UK design members were asked for pro bono support for a new project in Cardiff. Duncan Hepburn FCSI of Hepburn Associates, volunteered to do the design work and later project managed the fit out. He sought support from FCSI Allied Members and they readily assisted in either supplying equipment free of charge or at cost price. The result of this was a saving to The Clink Charity of over £100,000.

* Verified statistics for 2012 will be released in early 2014.