North Olympic Peninsula jails, Clallam Bay prison struggle with soaring food prices
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Tom Shumway, lead food service worker with the Clallam County Sheriff’s Department, stands next to an electric pallet jack inside the jail’s food storage building. A new second level, visible behind Shumway, was added to the building to accommodate storage of bulk food. -- Photo by Chris Tucker/Peninsula Daily News

By Paige Dickerson, Peninsula Daily News

Supervisors of North Olympic Peninsula jails and the state's Clallam Bay Correctional Facility are struggling with high food prices — and bracing for costs to soar even more.

Even though some buy food on annual contracts and have prices preset within a certain range, fuel surcharges and fresh produce prices are threatening to burst their budgets.

Faced with increases of from 20 to 50 percent in prices over the past year, none has requested an increase in public funding, but most supervisors expect to do so for 2009.

And if food prices rise much more, they could ask for emergency increases before the end of the fiscal year in December.

In the meantime, many are doing creative juggling to keep costs down and find new sources of revenue.

Clallam County jail
The Clallam County jail has seen food price increases of up to 50 percent across the board, with the cost of some products soaring much higher, Superintendent Ron Sukert said.

The jail, which has an annual food budget of about $160,000, houses around 117 inmates daily, Sukert said.

"Obviously, we have to feed them somehow," he said.

The jail has increased purchase of food in bulk, storing it in a new 400-square-foot mezzanine in the pantry to allow easier organizing for the kitchen.

"We are buying more frugally and in larger quantities to get the best prices we can," Sukert said.

County Commissioner Mike Chapman, R-Port Angeles, said that Sheriff Bill Benedict recently negotiated a new contract with Sequim for housing that city's prisoners that will bring in more money for the county jail.

"I would say, for this year, we are doing fine in the budget," said Chapman, who was elected in 2004 as a Republican but is running as independent in the Aug. 19 primary election

"Next legislative year, we — the sheriff and I — will be going down [to Olympia] to talk to the legislators about paying their fair share of the costs," Chapman said, "because the majority of people who are housed at the jail are there on state charges."

Jefferson County jail
Prices have risen about 20 percent at the Jefferson County jail, said Superintendent Steve Richmond.

"You bet we have seen an increase," he said.

The jail's food budget is about $67,000 per year, and the jail houses an average "in the low 50s" each day.

The jail chef is shopping around for the best deal, Richmond said.

"Our chef has been reviewing menus and suppliers. He is very proactive about stuff like this," Richmond said.

"He has been searching and taking our main suppliers, and does a little bargaining to keep the prices as constant as he can."

Some food prices have increased primarily because of the cost of delivering goods, said Jefferson County Commissioner John Austin, D-Port Ludlow.

"We are at the tip of the Peninsula, so we really get hit hard, because food has to travel the farthest to get to us," Austin said.

"Gas of course is our biggest issue," agreed Jefferson County Commissioner David Sullivan, D-Cape George.

"We thought we were being generous last year when we allocated $3.50 a gallon, and now it is up to nearly $4.50 a gallon.

"But some things have just skyrocketed like you wouldn't believe."

Forks city jail
The Forks jail hasn't yet felt an impact because prices were set through various contracts, said Police Chief Mike Powell.

"We know a few things have gone up, but so far we have just managed to order those meals that are cheaper," he said.

But he expects steep increases as each contract ends.

"We are expecting an increase — I'm not sure by how much — in the next budget year.

"We will have to look at ways to cut down — maybe some less expensive food, maybe by cutting back desserts.

"There are definitely some things we can work on."

The Forks jail houses about 15 people per day, Powell said.

It has a total budget of $493,000 per year.

The budget is not broken down into line items such as food to allow more flexibility in spending, said Daniel Leinan, city treasurer.

New revenue is expected through contracts with Bremerton, Poulsbo and other cities to house long-term inmates, Powell said.

Clallam Bay prison
Food prices have increased by 20 to 25 percent for state prisons, including the Clallam Bay Correctional Facility, said Jay Jackson, food program manager for the state Department of Corrections,

That has prompted the department to attempt to coordinate food purchases with other state agencies to lower costs.

"We are working with all of the state agencies — the Department of Social Services, for example — to make sure we are ordering the same things to get the best discounts," Jackson said.

Agencies are also attempting to plan deliveries "so that we don't have two trucks going the same places," he said.

Clallam Bay Correctional Facility has an annual food budget of about $1.2 million.

The prison can house up to about 850 inmates.

The price of food has increased by an average of 7 cents per prisoner per meal over the past year, Jackson said.

Multiply that by thousands of inmates eating three meals per day statewide, and the cost increase is significant.

Seven cents per meal "doesn't sound like much," he said, "but believe me, it really turns out to have a big impact."

Food prices are not only rising, but also changing rapidly, he said.

A bag of oatmeal, for example, might change prices from day to day, varying by up to 50 percent.

"These are things that typically were the same prices for years and years," Jackson said.

"So planning is very difficult when it is changing so frequently."

All of the organizations said they work with nutritionists to ensure healthy meals.

"The calories are maybe a little bit high, still," Jackson said about the prisons.

"But they are very nutritious meals, and we want to make sure these men are making good choices."

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Reporter Paige Dickerson can be reached at 360-417-3535 or paige.dickerson@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: July 05. 2008 9:00PM
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