Lawmakers angered by prison official’s attitude, cut food budget
Lawmakers angered by a prison official’s attitude toward their staff decided Wednesday to cut back the budgeted amount for prison food.
Both Senate Finance Committee Chairman Bill Raggio, R-Reno, and Assembly Speaker Richard Perkins, D-Henderson, made it clear in separate hearings they were angry at the tone of a letter from Deputy Corrections Director Glen Whorton in which he questioned the “retaliatory attitude” of Legislative Counsel Bureau staff during review of the proposed budget.
Staff had questioned the need for more money to cover prison food costs over the next two years.
After chastizing prison officials over the letter, Perkins on Wednesday moved to cut the inflation increase for prison food out of the budget.
“I take issue with the tone of the letter,” said Perkins. “Our staff does what we ask them to do.”
Whorton received a similar reaction from Raggio last week when Whorton tried to argue for the increased food budget, saying when inmates are unhappy with their food service, it causes increasing problems for the corrections staff.
Deputy Prisons Director Darrel Rexwinkel pointed out the Nevada prison system is feeding inmates for an average cost of $2.29 a day compared with an average of $4.41 for other western states except Hawaii. He said the prison cost for food is substantially less than what the Division of Child and Family Services is paying for food service in its juvenile facilities — about $5.25 a day per prisoner.
Altogether, the system spends about $17 million a year on food.
Rexwinkel said the prison system can’t maintain that low cost because the cost of food is rising — more than 2 percent in the first two months of this year.
In addition, prisons are required to provide enough calories each day as well as ensuring meals are nutritionally balanced, healthy and take into account such things as religious and dietary restrictions.
“We need enough money in the budget to buy food ,and food costs are going up,” he said.
Rexwinkel said an inflation increase of 5 percent is important because inmates upset about the quality and quantity of their food can become a security problem.
“Food is very important to them in there,” he said.
He also said the prison system would have a hard time taking the extra money out of other parts of the budget because they’ve already absorbed all the governor’s cuts, through utility and employee benefit savings totaling about $11 million.
Perkins didn’t question those statements. Instead, he moved to take the 5 percent inflation factor out of the Department of Corrections budget.
“Have them find the savings somewhere else in their budget to do that,” he said.
The rest of the Ways and Means Committee agreed.
Prison officials said that will take about $750,000 out of the food budget.