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News / Clark County News

Clark County Jail meal changes prompt riot

Facility has since returned to serving one hot meal daily

By Jerzy Shedlock, Columbian Breaking News Reporter
Published: June 10, 2020, 6:00am

Clark County Jail is back to serving a single hot meal each day following several days of sack breakfasts, lunches and dinners, a change that prompted a riot in the facility on Friday.

The jail had switched a day prior to three cold meals per day due a lack of inmate workers in the kitchen, Chief Corrections Deputy Ric Bishop said. The meals served were nutritionally balanced, Bishop said, adding it was a temporary change until a sufficient number of inmate workers were screened and assigned to food service.

Weekly menus for the jail obtained by The Columbian show the jail switched from hot meals at breakfast and dinner to serving a single hot meal at lunch in at least late April. Bishop said the switch happened in early March or late April. The meals listed for April 28 show a cold breakfast — cereal, fruit and a muffin, among other items — were followed by a hot lunch consisting of split pea soup and chorizo burger. A previously planned dinner meal of “Italian pasta” and green beans was replaced with “bologna/cheese.”

On May 18, an identical dinner meal was replaced with “tuna/cheese,” according to the weekly menu.

On Friday, inmates in two housing units began flooding the units and lighting small fires to protest the change in food and the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Bishop said.

The burning materials thrown by inmates landed in water in one of the jail’s day rooms and caused a minor amount of smoke — too little smoke or fire to activate the sprinkler system, according to the chief corrections deputy.

Security teams were called in and removed inmates from the day rooms while they searched for a lighter. Medical staff examined inmates before placing them in holding rooms so the living area could be cleaned, Bishop said.

Cmdr. Kimberly Beltran said inmates in two housing units started riots but security teams were only needed in a single unit.

Two unidentified inmates refused to leave the living space and were forcefully removed. That use of force is being reviewed, as per standard protocol, Bishop said. The two inmates were looked over by medical staff; jail officials are contemplating disciplinary action against them, he said.

As of Monday morning, all inmates were accepting their meals, and all confiscated items had been

The Columbian requested information from the jail about the cold meals and subsequent riot after several concerned people with family members housed there contacted the newspaper demanding answers. The family members did not return calls for comment or declined to speak on the record out of fear that their relatives in the jail would be punished. One family member said she was most worried about the nutritional value of the cold meals being offered.

Even having only one hot meal each day is out of the norm for the jail.

“Due to COVID-19, we have fewer workers as a result, and we’ve changed from a hot breakfast and a hot dinner to a hot noon meal with sack meals in the morning and evening,” Bishop said.

State law says local governments that own or operate correctional facilities must adopt their own operating standards governing federal minimum requirements surrounding the health and well-being of incarcerated people.

Clark County Jail standards on food service say at least three meals a day are served at regular intervals. The morning meal should be served within 14 hours of the previous day’s evening meal, according to the standards. And the jail can arrange for a prepared meal service or give inmates frozen packed meals.

According to the jail, the offerings are reviewed annually by a registered dietician, and special meals are allowed for medical, religious or other special needs reasons.

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The standards do not require hot meals to be served, but the jail provides them as a matter of policy, Bishop said. Inmates often speak out about the food they receive, he said.

“I have a number of grievances … I’m sure I have some grievances now for the cold meals, but those have to go through a certain process,” he said.

Columbian Breaking News Reporter