December 8, 2012
Luzerne County Controller Walter Griffith said he found numerous invoices showing the county prison purchased food that‚??s not on inmate menus, including bacon, bagels, cream-cheese packets, strawberries, cantaloupe, honeydew, red and white grapes and pork sausage.
County Prison Warden Joseph Piazza has insisted workers who received free meals ate the same food served to inmates.
Griffith said Friday he questions the accuracy of that statement because none of these items appear on the rotating inmate meal menus ‚?? vegetarian and non-vegetarian ‚?? provided by the prison for his review.
He sent Piazza an email Thursday asking if the prison failed to provide any inmate menus.
‚??The menus that I received do not reflect some of the items purchased, and I need clarification. There is bacon and also pork sausage,‚?Ě Griffith wrote.
Piazza provided the following response to Griffith: ‚??We will look for menus and what was done in the past.‚?Ě
Griffith said he had not received any additional inmate menus or updates as of Friday afternoon.
He questions why additional menus would exist because the prison has long relied on a rotating multi-week menu to simplify ordering, preparation and dietary requirements.
Contacted by telephone, Piazza said he was not in the office Friday but will provide responses to Griffith‚??s inquiries next week.
The law says inmates must get varied, well-balanced meals that are approved by a dietitian.
All food is prepared in-house by a mix of staff and inmates. Storage is at a minimum because the kitchen is designed for 250 but must feed 650 or more inmates three meals a day, officials have said.
The ordering of pork sausage also raises a flag, Griffith said, because the prison has long-standing policy prohibiting pork in the kitchen because Muslim inmates don‚??t eat it for religious reasons.
Griffith said the inmate menus indicate bananas, apples and oranges are the only fresh fruit provided to inmates, usually at breakfast.
The inmates are served bread, cornbread, toast and biscuits with various meals, but bagels are not listed. Bacon is not listed on any menus he received, alone or on sandwiches or burgers, he said.
He found at least 50 cans of tuna ordered but not on menus.
The prison also provides kielbasa to inmates as a treat for Christmas and Easter, but he said that purchase is not bid out to ensure the county receives the best price.
Griffith‚??s audit was requested by county officials after Councilman Edward Brominski recently questioned the free meals for staff.
County Manager Robert Lawton stopped the free meals in response.
Piazza told council last week the decades-old practice of providing free meals to 20 management workers and sometimes other staff is common practice in prisons to keep workers on-site in case they‚??re needed and to prevent employees from bringing contraband into the facility.
He told council the free meals were stopped for unionized corrections officers under the administration of his predecessor, Gene Fischi, but ‚??not because of financial reasons.‚?Ě
Council asked Lawton to provide a recommendation on whether meals for some or all staff should be restored, though it was under the assumption the inmate and staff meals are the same. Councilman Eugene Kelleher also has raised the possibility of requiring workers to pay the cost of the meals if they are offered again.
Lawton said the prison kitchen, including all food, cost $940,000 in 2011, which equates to about $1.33 per meal if 650 inmates are served three meals daily. The proposed 2013 budget allocates $950,000.
Piazza said the per-meal cost is $1.50 for staff and $1.09 for inmates in neighboring Lackawanna County.
Griffith said his assessment will take some time because he must review hundreds of food purchase invoices at the prison from at least seven suppliers. He also must determine if food was purchased from other vendors outside the bidding process.
See copies of the inmate menus provided to Controller Walter Griffith by the prison at www.timesleader.com.