Inmates denied hot meals

Broken cooking equipment has left the Clayton County jail without hot meals for about five weeks, Sheriff Kem Kimbrough told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Sunday night.

The AJC learned about the problem after receiving an anonymous complaint.

On Tuesday, the Clayton County Commission allocated $60,000 to replace three “kettles,” County Chief of Staff Alex Cohilas said. He said he doesn’t know when they will be fixed and would have more details today.

A kettle is a large pot for boiling and reheating food, Kimbrough said.

“They approved the money, but nothing else has been done,” Kimbrough said. “I would think this is an emergency.”

The 1,900 Clayton County inmates have been eating mostly bagged lunches, including bologna sandwiches and fruit. Aramark, the vendor who handles food and laundry services for the jail, has tried to make some hot meals at an off-site location and bring them to the jail, Kimbrough said. But there is no way to reheat the food.

“Under Georgia law, inmates are supposed to have at least two hot meals a day, and there should not be more than 14 hours between those two hot meals,” Kimbrough said.

The lack of hot food opens the county up to lawsuits, the sheriff said.

Despite the lack of hot meals, Kimbrough said there has not been an increase in illness or complaints from inmates.

“Food quality remains high and appropriate,” he said.

The broken kettles are just the latest in a string of problems in the jail, including mold on the kitchen floor and cracked tiles.

“All of the equipment is at or beyond its life cycle,” Kimbrough said.

But the sheriff said he doesn’t have money in his budget to fix it.

Kimbrough asked for a multimillion-dollar budget increase in the spring to repair all of the problems, but the commission rejected the increase and slashed spending across all areas of the county.

Last month, Kimbrough told the commission the kitchen problems had gotten worse with the kettles breaking.

“We had a third-party company come in and evaluate it. They said it would be dangerous to use and we’d better go ahead and replace it [the kettles],” Cohilas said.

The commission immediately ordered the jail to stop using the kettles and got three quotes to replace the cooking equipment, Cohilas said.

“Once his concerns were made known to the proper departments, we responded very quickly to get the situation evaluated,” Cohilas said.

But Kimbrough said he still doesn’t know when the equipment will be replaced.

Kimbrough said he can’t just go out and buy new kitchen equipment because the jail is owned by the county, and the commission must sign off on all expenses.

Reached Sunday night, Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell said he was unaware of the situation and referred questions to Cohilas.

The county pays Aramark about $1.9 million a year to run food, laundry and commissary services at the jail. The jail spends 82 cents per meal, Kimbrough said.

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