Eliminate Free Meals Served to Prison Employees

Meals should be sold to eligible prison employees for $1 per meal plus tax.

Texas Department of Criminal Justice-Institutional Division (TDCJ-ID) employees who work inside prison units receive up to two free meals per shift. 1~ Employees are allowed free meals before and after their eight-hour shifts. Department employees on travel status may also receive two free meals, and employees residing in employee dormitories may receive three free meals per day. 2~

The meals can be provided to employees only after the inmates food requirements are met. Further, the food served to inmates must be the same quality as the food served to employees. 3~

About 10.4 million free meals were served in fiscal 1992 to prison employees. 4~ There were 19,403 employees in the prison system eligible for free meals. 5~ The average number of meals served for the year was 537 per eligible employee.

With the exception of a partial per diem allowance for meals given to state employees on travel status (which the Texas Performance Review is also recommending for elimination in a separate part of this report), the state does not provide meals to employee s during regular work hours. Teachers, who spend all day in classrooms, pay a small fee for school meals. Because the meals provided to prison employees are available to the employees only before and after their work shifts , there is no disruption of the employees normal job responsibilities.

Eliminate free meals served to prison employees except for those meals served to employees on travel status and impose a minimal charge, including tax, for this benefit.

Meals should be provided to eligible prison employees for a nominal fee of $1 per meal plus tax. Based on fiscal 1992 meal-cost estimates, this fee would cover the cost of the meal. 6~ Meal prices could be increased as the food costs increase.

To achieve these savings, the Legislature should reduce the TDCJ-ID appropriation by the estimated charges for employee meals. The revenue generated by the $1-meal fee should be appropriated to the TDCJ to cover the cost of the meals served.

Benefits of this change would be an increase in revenue from meal sales and a savings in costs from meals not served. The agency has a system for collecting fees and controlling receipts from meal sales. The sy stem, however, should be enhanced by the use of debit cards to charge employees payroll-deduction accounts. Using debit cards would minimize the use of currency for meal purchases. Individual employee debit cards are currently used at prison commissaries for sales to prison employees. 7~

Another advantage of this recommendation is increased in sales tax collections for the state, as well as the cities and counties where the prisons are located.

A disadvantage of this recommendation would be that the emplo yee would have to pay for the meal. At a fee of $1 per meal, however, the price is not prohibitive. Although the free meal benefit would be eliminated, many other prison employee benefits remain, including hazardous duty pay, uniforms, laundry, housing, ut ilities and an enhanced retirement plan. 8~

Fiscal Impact
Based on an assumption that 75 percent of eligible employees will continue to participate in the meal program, the gain to the General Revenue Fund resulting from the $1 per-meal fee and the tax fr om meal sales is estimated at $51.3 million during the next five years. The savings to general revenue from meals not served is estimated at $16.1 million during the next five years. Revenue to local governments is estimated at $731,000.

Gain to the
Fiscal General Revenue Gain to Local Change in
Year Fund 001 Governments FTEs

1994 $11,312,000 $123,000 0
1995 14,035,000 152,000 0
1996 14,035,000 152,000 0
1997 14,035,000 152,000 0
1998 14,035,000 152,000 0

1 State of Texas, General Appropriations Act, Seventy-Second Legislature, First and Second Called Session (Austin, Texas, 1991), p I82.
2 Ibid.
3 Ibid., p. I-83.
4 Interview with Janie S. Wilson, Food Service Director, Texas Department of Criminal Justice - Institutional Division, Huntsville, Texas, November 18, 1992.
5 Ibid.
6 Interview with Val Clendennen, Texas Department of Criminal Justice - Institutional Division, Huntsville, Texas, November 18, 1992.
7 Interview with Mike Turner, Texas Department of Criminal Justice - Institutional Division, Huntsville, Texas, November 17, 1992.
8 General Appropriations Act, pp. I-81-I-83.