The soaring US prison and jail population – which has hit a record 2.2 million and is the highest per capita in the world – is putting a huge strain on state and federal budgets, costing more than $8.5bn a year. Wardens and prison managers are under intense pressure to cut costs across the board, including the food provided to inmates, some of whom are thought to be fed for less than $1.20 a day. In many prisons across the US, inmates only rarely receive eggs, dairy or meat and fresh fruit and vegetables are sometimes banned altogether.
Many prisons’ food service has been outsourced to private companies offering big cost savings and making big profits for their shareholders. One of the biggest, Philadelphia-based Aramark, a company with annual sales of $14.3bn, continues to serve up 380m meals a year as the sole food provider to more than 600 prisons and other correctional institutions despite repeated fines over scandals including serving food tainted by maggots and rats. Riots have erupted at several prisons with Aramark-provided food leading the company to lose contracts in Michigan and Florida. Aramark, which also supplies hospitals, schools and event arenas around the world, made a $236m profit last year, a 56% increase on 2014, on sales of $14.3bn. The company’s chief executive, Eric Foss, was paid $21m last year and $32.4m in 2014.
Tom Roy, Minnesota’s commissioner for corrections, said in an interview. “Being in prison is punishment enough, they don’t have to be tortured by bad food.”