If you work in corrections, odds are you’re familiar with how often inmates complain about receiving meals. Luckily, there is a way to eliminate inmate complaints: documentation. Tracking and documenting which inmates either accept or deny their meal helps narrow down the claims of inmates not being offered a meal. By tracking this information during the meal offering process, complaints can easily be proven true or false by pulling inmate-specific or housing-specific reports. The last thing officers need to do is waste their time sifting through irrelevant data. This blog will lay out the most principal factors of meal tracking: how it limits complaints, increases awareness of special diets, identifies and prevents hunger strikes, and saves money. Overall, it will explain how tracking inmate meals further improves facility operations and inmate welfare.

Limit Complaints

Meal reports should be able to quickly provide various filters or views depending on the type of information needed by administration, and quickly navigate to the specific information they are looking for such as date, time, housing unit, inmate name, accept or decline, officer number, photo (if available). For example, if an inmate files a formal grievance stating that he wasn’t offered lunch for the past three days, staff are only concerned with viewing meal data on that one inmate. Ideally, staff would pull an inmate-specific report that shows any meal offering with that particular inmate, excluding all others within the facility. Trying to find a specific answer in facility-wide manually written logs would be immensely time consuming.

Increase Awareness of Special Diets

The U.S. Constitution protects inmates from infringement on their practice of religion. Thus, facilities are obligated to accommodate requests for special diets for inmates when necessary to meet their religious beliefs. There are programs in place to help facilities and governing agencies manage how they address inmate diets, but before these programs are implemented, facilities have the right to make inquiries to verify the authenticity of the inmate's request.

A popular practice of confirming that inmates with special diets or meal restrictions receive the correct tray is taking a photograph of their tray upon delivery. Doing so helps document that inmates requiring vegetarian, Kosher, or Halal received the appropriate meals. It adds another layer of defensibility if inmates claim to have not received the accurate meal. For an easy and seamless process, officers must know which inmates have special restrictions. With a mobile tracking system, specific inmate details are integrated with the facility’s offender management system. The integration makes it simple for an officer to click on the inmate’s profile within the platform and see an inmate’s special diet and/or meal restriction.  

Identifying and Preventing Hunger Strikes

The bare necessities for every human being’s survival include appropriate dietary needs: food and water. It’s difficult to imagine someone refusing food for an extended amount of time, right? However, it happens. A popular method of protest where food is being refused is usually performed in a setting where food is considered a privilege. Hence, it’s a “big deal” to deny the food you’re being offered. This method is usually aimed at protesting prison conditions, policy change, or bringing attention to something the majority of the population disagrees with. 

Of course, there are people in the protest who eventually give up and start to eat again. But there are also those people who will continue to protest until death, which facilities will not allow to happen on their watch. Food is a source of fuel that keeps the body working, and malnutrition is nothing to play around with. The refusal of food is extremely dangerous and risks permanent damage to mental health and physical health. This leads to the shutdown of the nervous system, cardiovascular system, respiratory system, along with higher chances of hypothermia, muscle weakness, infections, psychological problems, and organ failure. 

Most facilities are only aware of a hunger strike when an inmate verbally declares that they are, in fact, on a hunger strike. This is a major problem because most inmates don’t come out and announce they’re participating in a hunger strike. Because of this, facilities rely on their staff to observe who does not accept a meal, document this on a paper log or JMS entry, and then pass this information to the oncoming officer or medical staff so they can monitor the inmate’s acceptance of meals moving forward. However, this is a flawed approach and is doomed to fail.  

Having the ability to electronically document meals being provided to inmates, in the moment, and track these meals gives staff the ability to identify and monitor who is refusing their meals. Medical staff can get automatic email alerts on regular intervals, of all inmates that refuse their meals.  This gives medical staff the information they need to take proper action.  If there is a pattern of one or more inmates refusing to eat, they can start investigating why and take further action if necessary to prevent inmates from becoming malnourished. In fact, not only is tracking inmate meals important, but so is being able to customize the reports by the amount of food that’s eaten. For example, if a correctional officer is keeping an eye on an inmate who has refused their meals the last few days but just started to eat again, the officer can take a photo of the tray and log a percentage of the amount of food that was eaten. This information can be saved into the inmate’s specific report describing the amount eaten, such as “25% finished” or “75% finished” along with a photo of the tray as proof.

Save Money

Tracking meals also helps save money by informing kitchen staff the correct number of meals needed for the facility. If the documentation is showing that only 80% of the inmate population is accepting meals and 20% are declining, the kitchen can reduce their production by 20%, saving time, wasted food, and money. Documenting this information also helps pinpoint how many inmates did not pick up a tray. For example, if you know you have 100 inmates to feed but notice there are two trays left at the pick-up station, then you know that 98 of your inmates are fed but there are 2 who haven’t been fed. Scrolling through your headcount list with the “meals” filter on will allow staff to quickly locate the 2 inmates that haven’t received their tray. 

The last thing correctional officers need on their plate (no pun intended) is inspecting pages of irrelevant data when trying to find a specific answer. Correctional officers have little to no time to waste when protecting America’s Thin Gray Line. The most effective way to eliminate the extra noise and narrow down the results when searching for a precise answer is to track, track, and track. We hope the tips above help your team limit the number of complaints you receive when offering meals, increase awareness of special diets, prevent hunger strikes, save money, and further improve your facility operations and inmate welfare.

References:

Foltynova, Kristyna, May 2021 | Anatomy Of A Hunger Strike: Why Is It Done And What Does It Do To The Human Body?

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https://www.rferl.org/a/hunger-strikes-russia/31266830.html