JEFFERSON — The Marion County Commissioners Court has approved a contract with Five-Star Correctional Services that would potentially save approximately $35,000 in food costs for the county jail.

“We are a correctional food service company,” Bob Austin with Five-Star Correctional Services told the court on Monday. “We do onsite professional food service and what we call regular Piggy Back service throughout the state of Texas, providing 45,000 meals a day for corrections.”

According to the company’s website, fivestarcorrectional.com, Five-Star’s Piggy Back Inmate Feeding Program is designed to help smaller jails save money and ease budget strain. The program caters to jails with populations between 25 to 250 inmates; provides more than $30,000 in annual savings; offers guaranteed meal pricing for 12 months; and customizes meal services for jails of all sizes.

“It just has to be functional and meet the standard,” Austin said of jail food requirements.

“Obviously it works because we’re doing it 45,000 times a day,” he said of Five-Star’s record.

Currently, Marion County budgets about $90,000 a year in food services, and an additional $4,000 for chemicals and supplies.

“On a jail average of 30 inmates, that’s just shy of 33,000 meals a year,” Austin pointed out.

He said, through the company’s Piggyback program, Marion County could see a an average decrease of $2.86 per meal to $1.92 per meal, or less, depending on which calorie plan the county decided to move forward with.

“Y’all are averaging $2.86 a meal. Harrison County does (the) 2,500 (calories plan),” said Austin. “They started with us a number of years ago, but they were really feeding heavy at the time, as well. When we first started with them, just on our piggyback program, it was a savings of $250,000 a year.

“But looking at (the) 2,800 (calories plan), it would (annually cost), food-wise, about $50,000 a year. That includes the paper and chemical in that cost, because we’re going to cover that for you all and just bill it straight to the county,” Austin explained to commissioners. “The administration fee is $13,000 a year. You take that all into effect, now you’re doing it basically for $1.92 cents a meal.”

The county decided to move forward with the 2,500 calories plan, which gives the jail the option of treating inmates with a dessert at least one night a week, depending on their conduct.

“Based on 2,500 (calories) and 2800 calories, basically the only difference between the two is 2,800 calories is dessert — every day at lunch and every night at dinner,” Austin explained. “2,500 calories is no dessert on the menu. We usually let the jails offer, as kind of a disciplinary type deal, if everybody’s good you get a dessert one night.”

Austin noted that the program includes a certified dietician menu that’s approved by a licensed dietician and the Texas Jail Commission.

“It also includes the special diets that may come along with pregnancies, diabetics, (and) special holidays for some of the religious beliefs,” he said.

The recipe guide software will calculate the necessary portions needed for the meals. Austin said a regional manager will also visit the jail to help train the staff on the food preparation.

“There will be a dedicated regional manager that already works in this area, that will come in for three or four weeks, usually through one menu cycle to show them how all this works, how we prepare the food; how do you put it on a tray to make it look appetizing,” said Austin.

A proprietary provider of services reviews all of the company’s menu items.

“Essentially how this works is the jail will place their grocery order. Anything they use, groceries, chemicals for the kitchen — all that — would come to Dallas,” said Austin. “We’re going to provide that to them at our costs. We will bill y’all for what they use on a weekly basis. We will charge the county a $250 a week administration fee. That’s our cut of the deal.”

Austin explained that correctional feeding should be reasonably filling, but affordable.

“Everybody goes into jail and kind of gets under a misconception that… they want to get the home-style food,” said Austin. “That’s probably what has driven your cost up.

“In correctional feeding, the food must only be functional and meet a standard,” he said. “In correction, it’s a total different mix… I mean it’s still all good stuff. It’s more comparison (to) upscale, TV dinner type stuff maybe, but affordable.

Inmate Housing

In other jail-related matters, the court approved a contract with the Upshur County Sheriff’s Department to house inmates.

“With the COVID 19 stuff going on, we got about two places to put inmates when we bring them into quarantine,” said Interim Sheriff David Capps.

“Harrison County requires us to have a COVID-19 test done, which means we have to keep them again for a longer period of time before we bring them over to the jail. Upshur County is not requiring that; and throughout this whole pandemic, apparently, they’ve been going ahead and taking inmates because they have rooms to quarantine,” Capps explained.

He said Upshur will offer about the same price per day as Harrison to house inmates.

“It’s not like we use them very often, but this gives us another avenue in case we do because we never know where this thing is going; and it gets tight sometimes when you need to make more arrests than you have (room),” said Capps. “We have to run them somewhere, and the extra costs of those tests, it will save us some money there.

“They’ll put them in their facility and quarantine them over there, and we wouldn’t have to worry about that extra expense,” he said of the Upshur County Jail option. “So it’s just another avenue.”