Sheriff: No hot meals any time soon

For five weeks, the Clayton County jail has been unable to serve hot meals because of broken equipment in the kitchen, Sheriff Kem Kimbrough said. And it doesn't look like the hot meals will return until mid-January.

“This is the fourth day I’ve had cold noodles,” Perry said from her cell at the Clayton County jail. “This is what we eat every day and it’s nasty.”

On Monday, the AJC toured the jail with the sheriff and learned that the jail has been without four ovens and any skillets for about a year.  Five weeks ago, the jail’s three kettles – giant pressure cookers used to make rice, potatoes and pasta – also went out. The power sources ruptured on the two 100-gallon and the 40-gallon kettles.

That's just the latest in a string of problems at the jail, including overcrowding, a leaky roof and mold.

“It ties our hands,” said Ricky Jordan, the jail’s food services manager. “It’s still the same amount of portions. It’s just cold.”

Georgia law requires inmates be served two hot meals a day. That’s not happening at the Clayton jail.

"Most people don't think about these people besides their families, but the law's the law and we have to abide by it," Kimbrough said.

A breakfast of eggs, sausage and oatmeal has been replaced with cold cereal, a hard boiled egg and a slice of cheese.

Lunches of spaghetti with sauce or hamburgers have been replaced with cold pasta salad and a sandwich.

The kitchen staff, led by food vendor Aramark, is making do by heating some food in the staff dining room and carrying it down into the jail.

On Monday, Perry and the 1,900 inmates in Clayton got a cold chicken patty and some pasta salad. The patties had been heated briefly but got cold during transport, said Jordan, who works for Aramark.

Jordan and his staff used to be able to heat up the patties in six ovens.

“We’re down to two,” he said Monday. “They [the other four] went out and the county came and took them last year. We have no idea when we’ll get them back.”

The remaining two work some days.

The jail has also been working without the three large skillets, which the staff used to cook vegetables. Now, they have none and serve cold garden salad or carrot sticks.

Jordan said his staff, which consists mostly of inmate workers, was making do until about five weeks ago when the kettles were ruled too unsafe to continue using.

“We were doing OK with pasta, mashed potatoes and casseroles in the kettles, but not anymore,” he said.

The inmates have always been given a bagged dinner of a bologna or salami sandwich with juice and fruit for their third meal. The county spends 82 cents per meal, Kimbrough said.

The kitchen problems have added an extra two hours to make each meal, forcing the jail to start breakfast at 3:30 a.m.

Last week, the county commission voted to spend $60,000 to replace the kettles, but it likely will be mid-January before they will be installed, said Alex Cohilas, the county's chief of staff. Atlanta Fixture Company told county officials that the kettles are rare and workers need time to fabricated the equipment, according to Cohilas.

There also is no word on when the other equipment will be replaced, Kimbrough said.

The sheriff is also waiting to hear back from the commission on replacing the kitchen’s 10-year-old floor and ceiling.

“We’re cleaning the best we can, but it breeds mold and fungus. It just needs to be replaced,” Kimbrough said as he pointed to mold growing in the floor cracks.

Kitchen workers also have to continuously replace ceiling tiles because of leaks, he said.

“When it rains, the ceiling leaks on to the trays we serve the food on,” Jordan added.

Perry, 21, was arrested last week on charges forgery, theft by receiving and obtaining drugs by fraud. She admits she made a mistake and understands she has to stay in jail because she can’t afford to pay a bond, but said she needs to eat to stay healthy.

“I’m five weeks pregnant and this is just sad,” she said. “I know other pregnant women in here sleeping on the floor.”

About 400 of Clayton’s 1,900 inmates are sleeping on the floor because of overcrowding, Kimbrough said.

“Every active unit is triple bunked, but we only have two beds in each,” he said.

On Monday, Betty Burgess went to the jail to see her  son, 22-year-old Jomeka, after he called her repeatedly complaining about the food. Burgess, who weighed 225 pounds, has been in jail since July when he was arrested for obstruction, sexual battery and theft.

“He looks like he’s 90 pounds. Them boys aren’t eating,” the mother said. “I got plenty of food at home waiting for him. If no one will cook for them, I will.”

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