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1/4/2018 Volunteers pitch-in to help feed jail inmates 24/7
One of the less visible operations of the Custer County Sheriff’s Office is the feeding of inmates in the County Jail. The constant responsibility for three meals a day, every day of the year is managed by Undersheriff Chris Barr, and guided by federal Food and Drug Administration nutritional standards and Department of Corrections approved menus. “We provide a well balanced menu and diet,” Sheriff Shannon Byerly notes, “and we know well fed inmates are less prone to have complaints and cause problems.” Meals are planned on a monthly basis, and are prepared by staff and/or trustees among the inmate population. The meals are prepared in a somewhat inadequate and small kitchen in the southeast corner of the Sheriff’s Office building. Recently acquired new refrigeration equipment has enhanced food storage capabilities there, but the ancient four burner stove in the tiny preparation area leaves a lot to be desired for the daily enterprise of providing, usually, ten servings per meal per day. The average cost per inmate runs about $4.72 a day, meaning that food costs alone can top out at over $17,000 annually for the department. Food is acquired in bulk orders through US Foods, and the orders are often supplemented through Sam’s, Lowe’s, and other area grocery retail outlets. Meal preparation is also supplemented through an outreach program of the Community United Methodist Church. A volunteer serving group there provides an evening meal once a month. From time to time other community members contribute to meal provision for inmates. Willie and Cheryl Quinney, for example, have provided meals from their Silver Cliff Mountain Inn during holiday periods, and First Baptist Church volunteers have also brought meals to the County jail on occasion. Inmates’ diets are also supplemented by a canteen program, in which they may provide their own funds for purchase of items like candy bars and snack foods from Lowe’s. A staff member ordinarily takes the orders from a set list of approved items and does the local shopping. The Sheriff’s Office building in which the County Jail is housed is a non-smoking facility and smoking materials are not part of the canteen program. Although there is some fluctuation in inmate population from week to week, it is not extreme, and allows for a fairly consistent scheduling of meals and food purchasing. The fluctuation is not only related to local arrests and bookings, but as well to housing inmates from other jurisdictions: Huerfano, Pueblo, and Fremont counties. “We take no violent prisoners in,” Sheriff Byerly comments, “but we do house general population inmates who otherwise would be serving their sentences in overcrowded facilities. It also provides supplemental income for the department.” So, while ordinary citizens rarely think “kitchen and meal prep” while driving by the Sheriff’s Office, or while dropping by for what one always hopes is a pleasant visit, in fact the place is abuzz daily with a cafeteria-like service capacity for current inmates. And the quiet, responsible program proceeds apace with, to date, no complaints. – W.A. Ewing