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In Polk County, jail is no picnic

Calories are for burning. They make muscles fire and blood flow. They cannot measure taste, texture or edibility. Even wood has calories.

This topic has fresh meaning for Polk County jail inmates, who suddenly find themselves without corn bread, chocolate milk, boiled eggs or peanut butter.

Instead, they have crackers, powdered milk, prefashioned egg patties and translucent wafers of turkey, unless some other meat can be bought for less.

Sheriff Grady Judd is behind this new austerity. He says the changes will save $160,000 at a time when most public agencies must do more with less. And, in keeping with Florida Model Jail Standards, which seem to have little regard for gustatory pleasure, the new menu will still give the inmates 2,300 to 2,800 calories a day. Day-old bread burns as well as fresh does. Maybe better.

Judd has little sympathy for his inmates. He can often be seen on television, with his immaculate uniform and gleaming star, denouncing deviants with the zeal of a preacher. Once, after his deputies pumped 68 rounds into a man suspected of killing one of their colleagues, he said they might have kept firing if they'd had more bullets.

"If you don't like the bill of fare at the county jail," he said Wednesday, "behave. Quit violating the law and stay out of the county jail. You can eat anything you want when you're at home."

Asked about those inmates who have not yet faced trial, Judd gave a reply that was no less accurate for having been in jest:

"I don't care whether they're guilty or not. That's of no concern to me. What is of concern to me is that there's probable cause to believe that they're guilty. And if there's probable cause, we're probably going feed them exactly as if they were convicted."

In the context of detention, food becomes one more instrument of control. Jailers in other countries at other times have starved their captives. It is hard to revolt when you can barely walk.

Conversely, the inmates in American custody at Guantanamo Bay were recently getting 4,200 calories a day, enough to feed a decathlete. One had nearly doubled his body weight, to 410 pounds. It is hard to flee when you weigh 410 pounds.

Polk's new order is unparalleled in this region. Pasco is now charging inmates 6 cents for a packet of sugar they once got for free, but this has saved only $2,400. Pinellas is cutting back on salt and pepper packets, but this is merely to alleviate clogs in the drainage system.

And then there is Hillsborough, which was showered with bad publicity this year when several former inmates brought forth claims of mistreatment. The current inmates still get as many as 3,000 daily calories. Sugar is free and the eggs are scrambled. Every fourth Sunday they get apple crisp.

Times staff writer Jonathan Abel contributed to this report. Thomas Lake can be reached at or (813) 226-3416.


Up to par

Polk County's new jail menu appears to meet standards set by the National Academy of Sciences, which recommends 2,635 calories a day for a 30-year-old man, 5 feet 11, 178 pounds, with a sedentary lifestyle.

In Polk County, jail is no picnic 07/09/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 15, 2008 9:50pm]
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