By Joel Hall
Inmates at the Clayton County Jail will likely have to wait until after the new year to enjoy full, hot meals.
The jail's three industrial-sized kettles -- used to heat corn, beans, rice and other hot staples used in inmate meals -- are being replaced by the county after having outlived their usefulness.
During a Clayton County Board of Commissioners meeting last week, the board signed off on an emergency purchase of $52,113.93 from Atlanta Fixture and Sales Co., Inc., for two, 100-gallon kettles and one, 60-gallon kettle for the jail. According to Clayton County Public Information Officer Jamie Carlington, problems with the kettles were first reported to the county on Oct. 14.
"Some of the equipment in the jail is old, but the shelf life on these items is about 20 to 25 years," Carlington said. "There was a problem with the belts and seals. There is a lot of pressure in a regular pressure cooker, so there was a lot of risk involved."
Carlington said that a week after the initial complaint, a "third-party" expert was called to the site to evaluate the kettles. After the assessment, the county's Risk Management department decided that the kettles were unsafe to operate.
"We were looking out for the safety of our employees," Carlington said.
Sgt. Sonja Sanchez, a spokesperson for the Clayton County Sheriff's Office, said all three of the jail's kettles have been inoperable for several weeks. She said inmates are getting some hot food, but that the jail has had to make some compromises.
"What they've been doing is that they are providing them alternatives," Sanchez said. "They have been alternating hot and cold [meals]. Sometimes it is bag lunches ... They [inmates] may have a hot sandwich as the main meal or a hot entree along with pasta salad, fruit, or things of that nature. They have not just been able to have all-hot meals."
Sanchez said that under state guidelines, the jail is required to provide inmates with three meals, seven days a week, and two hot meals within a 14-hour time period. As of this time, the county jail is out of compliance with what the state requires, she said.
"We do consider it an emergency, because we are not in compliance with what we are required to provide them," Sanchez said.
According to Carlington, the county has already allotted funds toward purchasing the kettles. She said that due to the size of the kettles, however, they will have to be custom made.
"It's a huge, huge piece of equipment that has to be specially made," Carlington said. "These things are bigger than what the restaurants use, so they are not just sitting around. They have to be fabricated. We are expecting them to get installed in the middle of January."
As of Monday, the jail was housing 1,866 inmates, according to Sanchez.