Ongoing Efforts to Transform Washington’s State Prison Food system

Prison Voice Washington has received many requests for interviews lately in light of the recent hunger strike at Washington State Penitentiary.  We thought this might be a good time to present a timeline of our work on Washington’s state prison food system, as well as a few updates.  Here is our chronological account:

• October 30, 2013 – Governor Jay Inslee signs Executive Order 13-06 requiring access to healthy foods in state agencies and institutions for employees and custodial populations

• February 2014 – Former Dietary Services Manager, Brent Carney, represents WA DOC in the Department of Health’s Food Procurement Workgroup to create and disseminate the Washington State DOH Healthy Nutrition Guidelines, which includes an Implementation Guide for Institutions 

• 2015 – DOC makes scheduled biennual revisions to internal food and beverage policies.  Although EO 13-06 required state agencies to adopt internal policies acknowledging the executive order by 2014, and although DOH provided a model policy template for institutions in 2014, DOC only adopted a new policy for their employee food and beverage policy, DOC 200.190. Meanwhile, as of April 23, 2018, policy DOC 240.100 and Attachment I Guidelines for Mainline Meals for incarcerated people still reflects no acknowledgement of the applicability of the order to custodial populations, despite having been revised in 2015.

• March 2016 – Prison Voice Policy Researcher Loretta Rafay meets with Brent Carney to discuss DOC’s food system. Carney gives Loretta handouts about EO 13-06 and discusses his involvement with the Food Procurement Workgroup on meals for the incarcerated, demonstrating his awareness of and involvement with EO 13-06 implementation.

• October 2016

Statewide Family Council members from four Washington prison facilities (WSP, WCCW, CCCC, and MCC) meet with Correctional Industries and Brent Carney to discuss the prison food system and present a list of recommended commissary foods and proposed action items to improve the prison food system.

Family members provide CI staff with Halloween pails containing the Prison Voice WA prison food report and healthy non-perishable foods families of the incarcerated would like to see added to prison commissaries.  After this meeting, Loretta Rafay begins working with the Department of Health, Brent Carney, and Correctional Industries to add some healthy non-perishable foods to the prison commissaries.  This working group makes meaningful progress and establishes a foundation for DOC and DOH to collaborate on prison food issues. (See summary notes and commissary product sales report .)

• November 2016 – Some prisons in Washington State begin replacing hot meals served to incarcerated people in visiting rooms with cold bagged Correctional Industries meals containing processed sugary foods (jelly, cookies) and potato chips, along with a small bag of carrots and a tiny apple.  Despite encouraging local facilities to provide hot meals to prisoners in visiting rooms in a December 2015 memo, then Assistant Secretary (now Secretary) Steve Sinclair wrote in an email to families of the incarcerated: “The reasoning had nothing to do with convenience or cost saving and was motivated [sic] a need to increase security practices to reduce contraband. Anytime we take something from outside (e.g. visiting) and move it back inside the secure perimeter it creates an avenue for folks to move contraband.”  (The puzzling rationale is why moving a hot meal in and out of a visiting room supposedly creates more contraband risk than moving a cold meal in and out.  And the meal is eaten so actually never moves back outside of the visiting room.  Any trash is disposed of in the visiting room garbage cans.  Moreover, all kinds of objects move in and out of the visiting rooms all the time.  Garbage cans, staff lunch boxes, vending machine carts, etc.)

•  May 2017 – An updated prison mainline menu analysis shows that DOC still is not compliant with required vegetable servings.  (As of April 23, 2018, these deficiencies are still about the same.  DOC is also only providing prisoners with one serving of powdered milk per day when the DOH Healthy Nutrition Guidelines require three.)

•  July 17, 2017 – Moldy carrots found in a Correctional Industries cold bagged meal served to a prisoner in the Washington State Reformatory visiting room.  Loretta Rafay received permission from the WSRU visiting Lieutenant to take the carrots to DOC leadership at a Statewide Family Council meeting the following day.  Notice the white liquid created by the mold that has pooled in the bottom of the package.

•  July 27, 2017 -DOC’s internal ombudsman, Carlos Lugo, responds via mail to an ombuds request filed by prisoner Atif Rafay concerning DOC’s failure both to update DOC 240.100 and to fully comply with EO 13-06. In this letter Lugo concludes that DOC is in violation of EO 13-06, but “failed to understand that it was obligated to apply the order to meals for incarcerated individuals.” As part of the investigation process for this ombuds complaint, Lugo interviewed Brent Carney and Correctional Industries food procurement staff, and surely must have been told about DOC’s documented participation in the Food Procurement Workgroup.

• April 11, 2018 – DOC leadership posts a memo in prison living units at Washington State Penitentiary in response to prisoner hunger strikes.   This memo states that DOC will begin providing hot oatmeal and milk cartons at breakfast.  It fails to truly acknowledge DOC non-compliance with Executive Order 13-06.  It also claims that the current Correctional Industries factory food model provides more nutritious food than DOC’s locally sourced fresh scratch-cooked meals provided over a decade ago.

• April 23, 2018 – A Prison Voice interview with a Washington State prisoner reveals that ten years ago Washington prisoners received unprocessed chicken, salmon, and open salad bar access at meals.  Unlimited milk was provided at breakfast.  This nutritious diet supported the mental health stability that makes prisons safer for both the incarcerated and the staff that monitor them.

The latest news from DOC headquarters is that over the next two years, all facilities will gradually eliminate breakfast boats and return to hot breakfasts served in dining areas. Monroe Correctional Complex will be the next facility to make this change, according to Assistant Secretary Robert Herzog. DOC has to make major changes to staff scheduling to go back to the old (and healthier) system. We will post additional updates as we have more information.



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