Durham The Durham County Board of Commissioners has hired a new vendor to prepare meals for inmates at the jail.
The up to $600,000 contract with ABL Management marks a shift from the vendor the county has worked with for 20 years. The company, based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, has been in business for more than 25 years, according to its website. The one-year contract allows for four successive annual renewals.
The change comes as the community-based, self-appointed Durham Jail Investigation Team has been protesting jail conditions for nearly a year, demanding access to the facility and inmates to get more information on conditions, the quality of food, access to medical treatment and other issues.
Sheriff Mike Andrews asked the National Institute of Corrections to inspect the jail in response to community concerns. The institute is an agency in the U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Prisons that provides training, technical assistance, and policy and program development assistance to correction agencies.
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Its 33 recommendations included getting an independent assessment of the quality and palatability of meals that meet dietary standards, but “may be lacking in flavor and variety.”
The county’s contract with Aramark, which has been the county’s vendor since 1996, expired June 30 and was extended to Sept. 30.
When asked if the change was related to federal report, Tamara Gibbs, Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman, said the selection had more to do with the Durham County Department of Public Health’s recommendation, the promise of a training program for inmates and Andrews’ desire to support a minority-owned business.
“We based our decision on the recommendation of the nutritionist who evaluated each vendor,” Gibbs wrote in an email.
The county advertised the jail contract in May, and 4 companies responded. The proposals were tabulated by a selection committee that included Durham County Detention Center staff, Sheriff’s Office administration, and the Nutrition Division of the Public Health Department.
During a Monday night commissioners meeting, Commissioner Wendy Jacobs applauded the Sheriff’s Office for “really making an effort to improve the food services and the quality of the food.”
Jacobs also mentioned the training program and a push to introduce some local food to the jail.
There are discussion about introducing local food, “but nothing definitive at this time,” Gibbs said.
The training program is still in the planning stages, and it will take time to implement, Gibbs said.
“The sheriff is a proponent of equipping detainees who are in the facility for a considerable amount of time with productive activities and new skills,” Gibbs wrote.
Jail forum Sept. 15
What: The Durham Human Relations Commission will hold a town fall forum on the impact of the jail on the city.
Presenters will include speakers from the Inside Outside Alliance, Durham County Sheriff's Office, Southern Coalition for Social Justice and Durham County District Court.
When: 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 15
Where: City Council Chambers, 101 City Plaza