WV prison food: Rotten or poor quality, lawsuits, lack of oversight

Nadia Ramlagan

West Virginia’s contracts with Aramark Correctional Services have come under scrutiny after a lawsuit brought by incarcerated residents, alleging they were regularly served spoiled milk and undercooked or rotten meat.

Teri Castle, former criminal legal reform fellow at the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, alleged Aramark profits by cutting corners, and then makes more money when people are forced to buy extra food from the prison commissary, run by an out-of-state company, which in turn is owned by Aramark.

Castle pointed out when incarcerated people buy commissary items, the West Virginia Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation also rakes in cash.

“Every time a person spends money buying food at the commissary, they get a 10% or 20% kickback,” Castle reported. “This should feel extremely immoral to West Virginians, who have to bear the burden of people coming home sicker than when they entered the prison.”

recent report showed since 2015, West Virginia prisons have sent more than $57 million out of state to pay for food served in its prison system. The Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation did not respond to requests from the report’s authors for information about prison meals, food sources or vendor contracts.

Castle believes state lawmakers should require full transparency from the prison system, especially when taxpayers are footing the bill.

“The West Virginia citizens should be able to see the food that they are purchasing,” Castle contended. “I mean, where does it come from? Are we using West Virginia-grown food, or just sending millions of dollars out of state?”

Research shows people behind bars are more likely to suffer from chronic, diet-linked conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. And according to the report, older people make up a growing share of West Virginia prison populations, with more than 1,200 age 50 or older.