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Ohio city council temporarily extends jail food contract despite COs voicing concerns over their safety

Corrections officers said the food is so bad that they fear for their safety, pointing to one particular one meal that COs said could have sparked a riot


Kaitlin Durbin

By Kaitlin Durbin

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Trinity Services Group’s contract to provide food in the Cuyahoga County jail is expected to be extended at least another two months, despite serious concerns over its quality, and officials gave no indication whether the county will eventually shop for a new vendor.

County Council’s Public Safety and Justice Affairs Committee reviewed the $937,000 extension Tuesday and recommended it to the full body for final approval. It would cover service through at least September, by which time the county may have alternatives, Chris Costin, representing the sheriff’s department said, but it’s unclear whether Trinity remains among the potential vendors being considered.

“Negotiations are being worked on right now between prosecutors, law and our jail staff,” Costin said.

The county’s new sheriff, Harold Pretel, has been charged with reviewing all of the jail’s contracts, including for food service, to determine the best options for the county.

Though members of the council have been critical of Trinity’s food service in the past, a recent visit may have changed some opinions.

Councilman Scott Tuma, who sits on the Public Safety committee, said he sampled a meal during a recent tour of the jail and found that “it was bland, but it wasn’t horrific,” though his chicken cutlet was “a little cold in the middle.”

Overall, “it was decent tasting,” he said, adding he was told a lack of seasoning is necessary for dietary and allergy-related reasons.

Jail Administrator Ronda Gibson told the committee that Trinity is required to meet state nutritional standards, among other jail standards. Trinity has met those standards during every jail inspection, she said. Another inspection is expected in November.

Menus are also approved by a dietitian or nutritionist, Gibson said.

“The goal is typically to have a diet plan or menu that serves the greatest proportion of inmates,” outside of medical or religious accommodations, Gibson said. “They try to make the food as basic as possible so that it can feed the greatest number of people, and you have the least number of special diets as you can.”

Other problems with meals arriving cold or being delivered late, she hopes, will also be resolved with a new contract. Right now, Trinity has oversight of the kitchen and ordering, she said, but the food is primarily cooked by county-hired staff or inmates, depending on how many are eligible.

She hopes that the county’s food vendor will eventually be responsible for that work.

Councilman Michael Gallagher, who chairs the committee, said he believes the current jail structure, spread out over multiple floors, is what makes it difficult to deliver hot meals. That won’t likely be resolved until the county constructs a new jail, he said.

“Which is the importance of moving forward with a new jail,” Gallagher said. “A lot is involved in this, and hopefully with the direction of a new sheriff, we’ll be on our way.”

Trinity’s food service has been mired in controversy this year, as inmates and corrections officers alike have repeatedly condemned its poor quality. They’ve reported undercooked meals, dinners that failed to meet nutritional standards and generally tasteless and unappetizing presentations that some have compared to vomit.

The food is so bad, according to corrections officers, that they fear for their safety in the jail. They pointed to one particular meal which appeared to consist of beef and potatoes in a gravy mixture, with a side of corn, that they said could have sparked a riot. also recently revealed that Trinity’s sister company, Keefe Commissary Network, won a separate contract to provide all commissary food in the jail, which inmates are increasingly using to supplement their diets. The relationship raised questions about a potential profit scheme in which low-quality meals could help drive commissary sales, especially after Keefe significantly raised its prices.

The county also earns a 35% commission on commissary sales.

It’s not the first time Trinity’s food service has come under fire, however.

In September, reported complaints from current and former inmates, which was quickly followed by a critical review by Cuyahoga Councilwoman Meredith Turner. She sampled the food during a tour of the jail and said it was so bad she suggested Trinity should be fired.

The county also had concerns about Trinity’s service back in 2020, when it first approved the contract, following numerous news reports that the company’s poor food quality and inadequate staffing had led to inmate riots in some states, among other problems.

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