Note: This story was last updated at 1 a.m. July 25.
Sheriff: Despite campaign claims, jail menu conservative, with average meal $1.10
Challenger stands by his pie, ice cream claims
CLINTON—The menu at the Anderson County jail at lunchtime Wednesday was simple and spartan: A peanut butter and jelly sandwich and milk.
It doesn’t appear to be an unusual meal at the jail, at least not this week. In fact, the menu this week includes three similar lunches with 1/4 cup of peanut butter and jelly mix, two slices of bread, and 8 oz. of milk or chocolate milk.
Other meals on the menu—the jail can serve up to 8,000 per week—also call for small portions of meat and bread, fruits and vegetables, and beans and milk.
But Anthony Lay, a Republican candidate for Anderson County sheriff, has raised questions about what inmates are eating. He has suggested they’re eating luxuriously, enjoying pies, cobblers, cookies, and cake. Lay has said the jail appears to be operating a bakery, and taxpayers are footing the bill.
“Fresh baked (double chunk) cookies; cherry, blackberry, and blueberry cobbler; pumpkin and apple pie with Cool Whip—these are all delicious,” Lay said in a June 26 press release. “But at the end of the day, taxpayers foot the bill, and they don’t expect us to offer luxuries to folks who, let’s face it, are in jail for a reason.”
Sheriff Paul White, a Democrat seeking his third term in the August 7 election, has dismissed Lay’s claims as inaccurate and misleading.
“The jail does not operate a bakery,” White said in a July 1 statement.
He said the jail menus are quite conservative. They include a cold sandwich for lunch. The average meal costs $1.10, White said.
The sheriff said the menu must meet the standards set by the Tennessee Corrections Institute, and it has to follow state-approved Sheriff’s Department policy. The menus also have to be approved by a nutritionist at the Anderson County Health Department, White said.
“All meals must be varied each day and provide a proper balanced diet for inmates,” he said.
Inmates do receive fruit. Sheriff’s Department Capt. Larry Davidson, who is acting chief jailer, said it’s part of the the state-approved dietary guidelines.
“We’re mandated by the state to give a balanced, nutritional diet,” Davidson said. “We give them what we’re required to give them.”
White said the documents cited by Lay are simply simply bid pricing sheets sent to various vendors by the Anderson County Purchasing Department to determine which company has the best pricing for providing food supplies for the jail.
“There is a broad range of items on these sheets, so overall pricing can be determined to select the best bidder,” White said.
Items on the bid sheet are not necessarily ordered, Davidson said.
Lay, who hasn’t toured the jail, said it is true that he initially had only bid sheets. But he said he has since pulled the order list for the year ending June 30, 2014, and it shows orders for 67 cases of apple pie filling and nine cases of cherry pie filling, 14 cases of cobbler crust dough, 10 cases of pumpkin pies and nine cases of pecan pies, 81 cases of vanilla and chocolate pudding, and four different flavors of ice cream: vanilla, chocolate chip, chocolate, and strawberry fountain.
“The proof is in the pie,” Lay said.
On Wednesday, he sent Oak Ridge Today a press release that asked: “Who ate the jail pies, ice cream, cobbler?” Lay asked if the items had been removed because he’s raised questions.
White and a handful of correctional officers interviewed for this story said inmates may receive pie as a humanitarian gesture at Thanksgiving and Christmas. But it’s not an everyday-occurrence, and inmates are not fed doughnuts, cookies, or other desserts, White said.
In fact, he said, prisoners frequently complain about the jail food.
In a well-attended debate this month at the Ritz Theater in Clinton, Lay stood by his claims. He said he has not been misleading voters.
“Apple pie will not be on the menu,” Lay said in the debate, moderated by radio talk show host Hallerin Hilton Hill. “There won’t be any pumpkin pie.”
Lay continued to stand by his claims during a telephone interview Monday evening and said he would “never, ever, ever mislead anyone.”
He followed up with a Wednesday press release: “At the end of the day, the very real issue is that we’ve got burglaries, prescription pill problems, elder abuse, child molesters, drunk drivers, as well as other violent criminals on the street, and every penny of our tax dollars counts to assist with solving these crimes. I don’t know where these desserts are going, but we don’t need to order them. Period! If inmates want pies, cobblers, and ice cream, then they need to stay out of jail.”
Oak Ridge Today requested a tour of the jail, officially known as the Anderson County Detention Facility in Clinton, because of the claims and counter-claims over the food. On Wednesday last week and Monday this week, Davidson showed a reporter the kitchen and food storage area, and coolers and freezers. He said there is no bakery and no supplies to stock a bakery, and no pies and ice cream.
The food storage area in the jail’s kitchen is stocked with boxes and racks of institutional-sized cans and containers of peanut butter, biscuit gravy mix, sloppy joe sauce, cream of mushroom soup, green beans, stew vegetables, mixed greens and vegetables, ketchup, and mandarin oranges, peaches, and pineapples in syrup, among other items.
The three coolers and three freezers have institutional-size containers and boxes of tea, salad, eggs, milk, cheese, sliced yellow squash, green peppers, peanut butter, chicken breast patties, frozen potatoes, and turkey bologna, among other items.
Oak Ridge Today did see one small box of cobbler crust in a freezer. Deputy Pam Phillips, who oversees the kitchen, said baked apples are spread over that crust, and it is more filling. She and Davidson said it’s part of the state-approved menu.
Davidson and Phillips also showed a reporter the menu for this week. Here are examples of what appear to be typical meals: On Sunday evening, the roughly 350 inmates at the jail ate a six-ounce Sloppy Joe on a bun, with one-half cup of baked apples, six ounces of french fries, and eight ounces of sweet tea. On Friday morning, they will be served six ounces of pepper gravy, a five-ounce chicken patty, a half-cup of peaches, two biscuits, and eight ounces of 2 percent milk.
Other meals include oatmeal, waffles, hot dogs, and hamburgers and fries.
The jail accommodates those who are lactose intolerant, pregnant, diabetic, or have food allergies or can’t eat certain foods for religious reasons.
A hand-picked crew of nine inmates who undergo a rigorous selection process works in the kitchen. The kitchen crew, which lives separate from other inmates, was preparing peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches on slices of white bread when Oak Ridge Today toured on Wednesday. On Monday afternoon, they were preparing turkey bologna sandwiches for Tuesday’s lunch.
Inmates, who eat in their housing units, would also receive a small container of milk with their lunchtime meals, Davidson said.