PICKENS COUNTY — Pickens County Council recently voted to proceed with a proposal from Trinity Services Group to take over meal preparations at the jail and prison following a presentation by Pickens County Sheriff Rick Clark and prison director Drew Sisco.
Clark and Sisco cited liability issues as well as cost as the chief reasons for switching to an outside food vendor.
“Anything that goes on in the jail, we have to answer to the Department of Corrections,” said Clark. “We’ve had actual lawsuits in there where the food was mentioned in the lawsuit.”
Clark said a full time kitchen supervisor was supposed to be on site at both the jail and the prison but that neither facility currently had one.
“We don’t have the staff that can sit in the kitchen all the time, we’re supposed to have that,” said Sisco. “(The prison) just got written up from the CDC during their inspection for not having one.”
Clark called the amount of liability on the county due to food service “tremendous.”
To offset legal responsibility and save the county money at the same time, Sisco stated Trinity Services Group would provide four full time staff members to prepare the facilities’ meals, with one being a kitchen supervisor.
The plan would also call for all of the food — for both the jail and the prison — to be prepared at the prison and then trucked over to the jail.
In all, Clark stated switching to Trinity would save the county around $70,000 a year and Sisco claimed had the county switched during the last fiscal year the county would have saved $83,000.
The deal was referred to as a “win-win” and a “no-brainer.”
Oconee and Aiken counties also contract with Trinity, said Sisco in response to Councilman Wes Hendricks who questioned if other counties in the area outsourced their jail food.
But there have been problems.
“I know Oconee County is a newer client for them (Trinity),” said Sisco. “They had a couple of issues with food prep with the main person they had over their kitchen.”
According to Sisco, the issue was resolved and the food service supervisor was replaced.
But the issue in Oconee was relatively minor compared to other problems Trinity has faced.
A Detroit Free Press article from March 2016 stated 1,300 inmates from Kinross Correctional Facility took part in a silent protest over food and that a similar number refused to eat their meals the following day.
Kinross is a client of Trinity Services Group.
“… Anita Lloyd, a spokeswoman for the Michigan Corrections Organization, said the union is concerned by the scope of the protest,” the article reads.
In 2015, inmates at Gordon County Jail in Calhoun, Ga., which uses Trinity, were so hungry they were eating their toothpaste, an Atlanta Constitution-Journal article wrote.
On Feb. 1 of this year, The Colorado Springs Independent ran a story about the El Paso County Criminal Justice Center stating: “… that many inmates report losing 10, 20 and even 30 pounds in a matter of weeks or months. Inmates call the food ‘slop’ and filed at least 400 complaints in just a few months after the jail’s new food contractor, Trinity Services Group of Oldsmar, Florida, took over.”
Through information obtained under FOIA, The Independent came into possession of emails that said in September and October deputies “had warned their supervisors that inmates’ frustration over food was giving rise to a ‘sketchy’ atmosphere.”
A riot over food broke out that November.
When asked if he was aware of the complaints against Trinity, Sheriff Clark responded to The Sentinel-Progress with the following emailed statement:
“After talking with several other jails about food service, we contracted with Trinity Services Group to address the very complaints that you list. We have complaints about the food and there will always be complaints about the food in the jail. WHY? Because it is Jail Food! I have never heard of an inmate bragging about the food or lodging!
“We chose as outside vendor because they can report to us the meals served and the calorie count for each meal because they have a certified dietitian supervising the process. The new Trinity dietitian will be tasked with maintaining compliance with the SC Department of Corrections food standards without spending tens of thousands of dollars on facility upgrades and/or hire new personnel for our kitchen. This is a better system than we have now. With food service data, we can report what is fed to the inmates and what the calorie count is per meal. We think this will improve our food in the jail.
“With Trinity, we now have a greater protection from frivolous lawsuits and liability concerns because all of the food service is contracted with a professional corporation with specific and extensive experience in feeding jail populations.
“Trinity has 400 food service and 500 commissary clients across the US and given that number of customers, a few complaints don’t seem out of the ordinary to me. As you can imagine, you will not hear the positive stories of the thousands of meals served daily by Trinity. We will be constantly monitoring the operation and will evaluate the service and address the issues that arise just as we do now. We can adjust calorie counts if needed. This is a win win for our staff and most importantly it is a win for our TAXPAYERS because we think we can save $50,000 per year with this program!”
Clark’s argument that inmates will invariably complain about the food is valid. Nationwide, inmates file thousands of complaints a day — with many related to food issues.
However, it’s not just inmates who are leveling complaints against Trinity. Less than a month ago, Trinity Services group was hit with over $2 million in fines and penalties by the state of Michigan for sanitation violations, inadequate staffing levels, delays serving meals and unauthorized meal substitutions, among others.
According to the company’s website, Trinity, which is based out of Florida, is the largest contractor dedicated to the corrections industry, has contracts in place in 43 states and claims $550 million in sales annually.
Requests to Trinity Services Group for comment on this story were not returned.
Reach Kasie Strickland at 864-855-0355.