County considering proposals for outsourcing jail food preparation

Two proposals to take over food services at the Bartholomew County Jail are under consideration.

But whether Trinity Services Group of Oldsmar, Florida or Tiger Correctional Services of Jonesboro, Arkansas submitted the lowest bid is very difficult to determine, county attorney Grant Tucker said.

“I can’t give you a price,” Tucker told the county commissioners after going over the proposals. “In their materials, the companies break down theoretically the price of an inmate meal. The jail staff can review their brochures and decide which one they believe is the better deal.”

The jail’s kitchen currently has three full-time staff members, Maj. Brandon Slate of the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Office said.

“It takes all three to effectively run the kitchen,” according to Slate. “When you lose one, when somebody quits, retires, is out on family leave or injured, we end up having to send corrections staff and pay them overtime to work the kitchen.”

The chosen company will be required to provide two hot meals and one cold meal for an average daily population of 240 inmates, according to the bid notice. Meals must also be prepared for an additional 35 individuals who are on a work release program, while alternative meals must be available for those with special dietary needs.

Both commissioners Larry Kleinhenz and Carl Lienhoop said it has become nearly impossible to find people willing to work in the jail’s kitchen for a reasonable length of time.

Inflation has made it extremely difficult to accurately budget funds for kitchen services, Slate said. Currently, the county pays about $600,000 annually for food, salaries, facility maintenance and benefits, he said.

If the selected company buys enough food for several jails, the odds are good that they can provide it locally at a lower cost, Slate said. For example, Trinity Services feeds more than 300,000 inmates in over 40 states, according to their website.

In their request to bidders, Bartholomew County stipulated the winning vendor must agree to hire the current staff if they wish to continue being employed in the jail kitchen.

“We are going to make sure the salary and benefits are there,” Slate told the commissioners. “We want to take care of our employees.”

But commissioner Tony London expressed hope that salaries and benefits are more affordable than what the county is currently providing.

“There’s a decent chance this might end up saving the county money,” Slate said.

A third company out of Kentucky also submitted a bid, but is not being considered because Tucker said the proposal was not in compliance with the bid requests.