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Schuylkill inmates sue over food

Published July 01. 2014 04:00PM

Schuylkill County prison inmates have filed a federal civil rights suit, saying they are not being given enough food and that commissary snacks are overpriced.

The suit, which asks for $1.5 million to be divvied up among the inmates for their "pain and suffering," that a new kitchen contractor be hired and that commissary snack prices be reduced, was filed May 20 in U.S. District Court, Scranton.

The 14-page, handwritten suit was filed by inmates David N. Murphy, Fred Williams and 44 other men all of whom signed their names and included their prison numbers against Warden Eugene Berdanier, kitchen director Alicia Watson, Gregory Beniston of Trinity Food Services, President Judge William Baldwin, Capt./CO William Flannery. Deputy Warden David Wapinsky, all guards and the county.

The suit alleges that portions are too small and that inmates are losing weight.

Commissary food items are priced too high, higher than in other prisons, inmates say.

Inmates rely on the commissary items to keep from starving, the suit says.

Baldwin, at a recent prison board meeting, asked Berdanier to have the dietitian from the county nursing home at Rest Haven review the menu to make sure it contains adequate calories and nutrients. This is something that's been done in the past, he said.

"They would just look at the menu, not at what's actually served. If the menu meets dietary requirements, and they are giving what's on the menu, that doesn't necessarily mean you get as much as you want," Baldwin said.

He has also asked Berdanier to check the portions, and to have the dietitian review the menu on an unpredictable schedule.

There are provisions in the contract with Trinity that address caloric and nutritional content of foods served to inmates, he said.

"We should be checking that periodically to make sure they are complying," he said.

But even if the food meets set nutritional standards, not everyone will be happy.

"We've always had complaints about prison food it's not like being home," Baldwin said. "For somebody used to snacking all the time, it's a transition."

Efforts to reach Berdanier were unsuccessful by press time.

The suit says the inmates went through the chain of command for change, but with no results.

The suit includes as an example that Williams came into the prison on Aug. 6, 2013, weighing 280 pounds, and has lost 78 pounds because he has no money for commissary items.

It also says inmates were served 10 kernels of corn, that condiments are watered down, and there is "not even enough to fill a 5-year-old child. This is cruel and unusual punishment."

The suit says that "every inmate has excessive weight loss and hunger."

It also says inmates have been served spoiled food.

The suit also mentions that some inmates sleep on mattresses on the floor.

The suit asks that Watson be fired, and that authorities send an "undercover agent" in to investigate operations at the jail.

Murphy, 49, of Pottsville, is in jail on drug charges. Williams, 51, of Delano, is in for eluding a police officer.

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