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Q&A with John Rogers, associate director of foodservice, Rhode Island Department of Corrections, Cranston, R.I.

As one of the country's smaller states, Rhode Island doesn't have county corrections facilities, but instead utilizes a unified system. Its prison facilities include an intake service center; maximum-, medium- and minimum-security prisons; and a women's correctional facility — are all located on the same campus in Cranston.

Rhode-Island-Department-of-Corrections-Moran-Dining-Room-1Rhode Island Department of Correction’s Medium Security Moran will soon undergo a dining room overhaul to increase seating."We have 6 kitchens serving between 100 to 1,100 inmates, depending on the security," says John Rogers, associate director of foodservice for the Rhode Island Department of Corrections. "The population of our intake center, which houses sentenced and pretrial inmates, fluctuates quite a bit."

The staffing consists of current inmates and is overseen by 2 foodservice supervisors and 20 correctional officer stewards assigned to the kitchens.

The Medium Security Moran Prison, built approximately 20 years ago, has a dedicated 6,000-square-foot kitchen that the R.I. Department of Corrections will soon renovate. The project will include a dining room overhaul to increase seating.

FE&S: What are the plans for the renovation?

JR: Right now, we're at the beginning stages to determine what is needed. We're currently set up to handle more than 1,200 inmates and can easily feed another 300. The issue is the amount of time it takes to feed the inmates, and that's why we're expanding the dining room and hoping to push the kitchen back. If we're able to accomplish this, we'll need additional equipment.

FE&S: What is the main challenge with the corrections foodservice segment?

JR: Speed of service is an issue with correctional foodservice and our operations. Each building is different. For example, at the intake center, we can't mix sentenced inmates with those awaiting trial, so we have to lock inmate groups into the dining rooms. As a result, it takes longer time to feed them.

FE&S: Describe your operations:

JR: In the medium security kitchen, 2 serving lines service 2 dining rooms of approximately 1,800 square feet each, with a smaller 800-square-foot dining room in between. The kitchen has 2 cook lines with 2 ovens, 4 large capacity fryers, 3 kettles and 4 6-foot griddles. We also have a couple of 2-door reach-in refrigerators on each serving line. Other equipment includes an 80-quart mixer, 2 walk-in coolers and 1 walk-in freezer. There is a prep area with tables by one of the cook lines. We also have a flight type dishwasher in a separate area.

FE&S: How is your menu structured?

JR: We are on a five-week cycle, with fall/winter and spring/summer menus. Some items are purchased prepared, while others, like soup and stews, are made from scratch. Lunch items include a housemade meatball sandwich on a torpedo roll with fries. Instead of purchasing frozen fries, a couple of years ago, to save money, we began utilize French fry cutters with fresh potatoes. These from-scratch fries have been well-received by the inmates and have saved us a lot of money.

FE&S: How do you handle staffing for your foodservice program?

JR: We typically have 3 correctional officer stewards and 47 inmates in the kitchen at any given time. In our medium- and maximum-security facilities, many of the inmates have been there awhile and know their way around the kitchen, but still have to be closely supervised. These inmates generally have more foodservice experience than those being held at the intake center. Our correctional officer stewards conduct training by showing inmates how equipment works, shadowing them for a while and rechecking their progress. It's not a formal training program, but the information and assistance is geared to each facility and inmate. We also have many inmates who come through with foodservice experience. For example, one worker at our maximum security facility had experience working in a produce company. Because we obviously have high inmate turnover, training, retraining and supervision are important.

FE&S: What are the equipment requirements for this segment?

JR: Some of the equipment is modified to prohibit tampering. For example, we are now purchasing dishwashers for the intake center and maximum-security facility. This equipment's specification will feature correctional packaging, which includes tamper-resistant screws and lock-in covers for dials. Another unique aspect is that whenever inmates use any equipment, they are required to put their ID chip in. This is a round, metal disk with a number that indicates which inmate is using the equipment. We have had instances where small pieces of equipment are missing, and this process allows us to find these items before inmates leave the kitchen. Some utensils, like knives, are tethered to a table utilizing a three-foot cable, which is locked to the table.

FE&S: What are the biggest challenges in the corrections foodservice segment?

JR: We always have to be concerned with food safety, consistent portions and having enough food for the meal with a little left over. Cost is always a factor. I have formulated three goals, which include reducing food costs, creating a heart-healthy menu and making sure the food is acceptable to the inmate population. It's important to have balance. If the goal was only to save money, it would impact the other two goals. I think we've struck a good balance with our menu.

FE&S: What are the most important aspects you look for in foodservice equipment?

JR: When purchasing equipment, we need to consider repair costs and service life as well as whether the unit is appropriate for our use. We also look for the latest changes and advancements. Size is an important consideration. I often look for state surplus property, which is used equipment that may fit our needs. I make sure to get input from foodservice supervisors and correctional officer stewards prior to adding new equipment.