‘Hangry’: Food at Nevada prisons leading to complaints, changes

LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — The Nevada Department of Corrections is revamping its food program and Aramark is conducting a comprehensive review, Deputy Director Kristina Shea said Wednesday at a Board of Prison Commissioners meeting.

Inmates and their loved ones have reached out to the 8 News Now Investigators with concerns about small portions, expired food, and a lack of nutrition.

Robert Abasta was released from High Desert State Prison in July after serving time for robbery. He spoke during the public comment section of the meeting about his experience working in the kitchen.

“We might have made mistakes but it doesn’t give you a right to torture us with our food,” Abasta said.

Members of the group “Return Strong” which advocates for better conditions inside Nevada state prisons attended the meeting. Many of them have family members who are incarcerated.

“An incarcerated member at Ely State Prison says ‘I have eaten toothpaste and Tums antacids or even salt for hunger pains,’” said Pamela Browning.

“I understand that they’re incarcerated but just because they’re incarcerated doesn’t mean they’re dehumanized,” Elizabeth Gutierrez said.

A state inspection revealed deficiencies involving food services at Florence McClure Correctional Center, High Desert State Prison, and Southern Desert Correctional Center. One deficiency raised a concern about a potential foodborne illness outbreak. Many of the deficiencies had been identified in previous years.

Funding for new kitchen equipment has been a problem, according to Shea. She said that the Department of Corrections is currently working with the state’s public works division to install new equipment.

Nutrition was adequate, according to the same inspection.

Testimony about the food from family members of inmates was drastically different from what the Division of Public and Behavioral Health concluded. However, Shea said that she was motivated to make changes after speaking with offenders.

Changes to the menu are expected to take place by October.

Director James Dzurenda also addressed recidivism at the meeting. He said that it is currently just under 25%. He identified re-entry programs such as vocational training inside prison facilities as a major factor in helping to prevent offenders from returning to prison.

Dzurenda returned to the department under the leadership of Governor Joe Lombardo after leaving in 2019. In an interview with the 8 News Now Investigators after the meeting, he acknowledged that he is trying to fix many problems within the department.

“Heard a lot of the people here today. I have mentioned the things that I’ve already have seen that I know we need to change,” he said. “We’re going to get there. It’s just, it’s difficult.”

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