Blood, cockroaches, rats: inspection reports reveal filthy conditions in the kitchens of Arizona prison

Upon arriving at Perryville State Prison, Alexandria Hunt noticed that the facility housed more than just incarcerated women.

“First there were little baby field mice in the dormitories,” said Hunt, who would catch the women and release them to nearby farmland in rural Goodyear, Arizona.

“But then it got to the point where there were huge rats everywhere,” she said, “especially in the kitchens.”

Hunt worked in several of the prison’s kitchens, including the main kitchen for the entire complex.

When she was serving her sentence five years later, Hunt said the prison had been ravaged by massive infestation.

“There are the same problems in every unit, but pests are the main problem,” she said. “We found rat droppings in the feed, in the storage areas, and all over the trays. It was really disgusting. “

Inspection reports from observers from the Arizona Department of Justice, Arizona Department of Health officials, and private contractors reveal that many of the kitchens and warehouses in the state’s prisons are infested with pests. Twelve-month inspection reports, conducted in all 16 state prisons in 2020 and made available to the KJZZ through a file request, describe dirty conditions, broken equipment, and frequent use of expired food.

→ View all 199 Arizona Prison Kitchen Records received by KJZZ

The records show that while critical violations were consistently identified in almost all facilities, prison kitchens were rated “satisfactory” by regulators and were allowed to continue serving food to detainees.

Arizona Department of Corrections

When asked about the reports, Justice Department spokesman Bill Lamoreaux said the issues identified by the inspectors had been addressed.

“As with all busy commercial kitchens, the equipment needs to be serviced from time to time,” said Lamoreaux. “In addition, we regularly clean and disinfect kitchen surfaces and food preparation areas several times a day, and the Department of Health routinely inspects ADCRR kitchens and surfaces in each of our complexes.”

Representatives from the Arizona Department of Health and Trinity Services Group, the company the Department of Justice contracts with to conduct all food and concession operations in state prisons, did not respond to requests for comment.

Pest infestation

Records from prison kitchens in Arizona confirm persistent pest infestation in several facilities.

“Rodent problem in the kitchen,” read a report from Perryville. The inspector found that “large glue traps” were more effective than smaller traps “which were ineffective for the larger rats”.

Arizona Department of Justice record

Arizona Department of Corrections

Another memo from a Perryville kitchen describes how prisoners had to be “retrained” to clean bird feathers from ceiling vents.

Arizona Department of Justice record

Arizona Department of Corrections

Cockroach infestation was found in more than half of the prison kitchens examined. At Eyman State Prison, an inspector found that “hot storage lockers” were out of order because they were infected with cockroaches.

“Pest infestation is still present in the main kitchen on serving lines, beverage stations and in the dining room,” wrote one inspector. “The problem was not resolved at the time of inspection.”

Arizona Department of Justice record

Arizona Department of Corrections

At Lewis Prison, an inspector made a note of a cockroach problem twice a month for almost a year. By September 2020 the inspector wrote: “Cockroaches are slowly getting bad.” The kitchen was rated “satisfactory” in every case.

Arizona Department of Justice record

Arizona Department of Corrections

Greg Goodman was incarcerated in multiple Arizona prisons for over 10 years. He says many of the facilities in the Florence State Prison are infested with pests.

“When we ate in the chow hall, you could hear the rodents in the wall,” he said. “And you’d see rat droppings anywhere.”

Department of Correction spokesman Lamoreaux said the department contracts with pest control services twice a month to monitor and treat the kitchens. “On occasions when additional pest control visits are believed to be required, the contractor will be called for out-of-cycle treatments,” he said.

Expired groceries

In addition to pests contaminating the food, Hunt said she was repeatedly ordered to cook with expired food and instructed to put false expiration dates on ingredients to mislead kitchen inspectors.

Hunt said Justice Department staff and Trinity workers frequently instructed detained workers to swap date tags on expired food to avoid inspection teams.

“They told us to break very basic food supply guidelines,” said Hunt. “We’d have to change the plastic wrap on the expired food, put a new label on and then write a new date on it. That was a very common practice. “

Inspection reports from kitchens in 10 different prisons provide detailed examples of expired and misdated food.

Arizona Department of Justice record

Arizona Department of Corrections

Arizona Department of Justice record

Arizona Department of Corrections

Hunt said an experience preparing breakfast food had stayed with her throughout her time in Perryville.

“We made what they called the French Toast Bake,” said Hunt. “You tear up a bundle of bread, pour water and a ton of cinnamon on it, and then put it in the oven.”

But Hunt said all the bread in the kitchen was moldy. “There were so many foods like this where you just mix a few things together and bake them until it’s dark so you could never tell if the ingredients were moldy or spoiled.”

When Hunt complained, she said Trinity and prison staff insisted she use the bread and suggested that she just scrape the mold off. “They told me that if I throw the bread away, I would get a disciplinary ticket for the destruction of state property and I would have to pay back twice the price of the bread.”

Hunt said after the incident she had only eaten food from the prison superintendent for the last seven months of her incarceration, a diet she estimated to cost about $ 450 a month.

“I was afraid I would get sick,” she said as she avoided eating in the kitchen. “But then my family had to take on a whole additional financial burden.”

Broken equipment and dirty conditions

The inspection reports document several cases in the prisons where dishwashers were broken for a long period of time.

Goodman said the sanitation conditions in the prisons were terrible. “The dishwashers were always broken,” he says. “So the kitchen workers had to wash the trays by hand, but they were always covered in dirt.”

He said the prisons would also wash and reuse single-use plastic cups.

“I was once given a drinking cup that a previous guy used as a spit cup to chew tobacco,” Goodman said. “It was disgusting. The floor was yellow and there was actually still dried chewing tobacco in it.”

An inspection of Winslow Prison revealed that the kitchen was “extremely dirty”.

“Flying is very bad,” says the report. “Radiator dirty and smelling of bad product and hasn’t been cleaned in months.”

Arizona Department of Justice record

Arizona Department of Corrections

Arizona Department of Justice record

Arizona Department of Corrections

During another inspection in Winslow, the bottom of a cooler was “covered with blood all over”.

No soap or toilet paper in employees’ bathrooms

People detained in Arizona prisons have historically had difficulty accessing hygiene products such as toilet paper, sanitary napkins, and tampons. During the COVID-19 pandemic, prisoners and staff complained about a lack of cleaning supplies. The inspection logs show that prison kitchens were no exception to the shortage of cleaning and sanitary products. Inspection reports from almost every facility found that the kitchen staff’s bathrooms were without soap, toilet paper, or paper towels. One report said: “The toilet was so dirty it should have been closed for no use (this is an ongoing problem)”

Arizona Department of Justice record

Arizona Department of Corrections

Arizona Department of Justice record

Arizona Department of Corrections

During an inspection of the Lewis Prison kitchen, an Arizona Department of Health officer recommended that the prison “fix soap dispensers … so staff can wash their hands.”

Imprisoned people speaking up

For several years, inmates have spoken out about the poor quality of food in Arizona prisons. In March, more than 100 prisoners in Florence State Prison went on hunger strike to protest inedible food and unsanitary conditions.

In November 2020, inmates who worked in the kitchens of Eyman, Lewis and Yuma State Prisons alleged that they had been forced to serve expired meat to their fellow inmates, leading to foodborne illnesses.

Jewish prisoners in Arizona state prisons recently sued the Justice Department over a change to the kosher eating program after the department switched to “plant-based communal eating” in August 2020.

Lack of accountability

Hunt said all kitchen inspections were announced well in advance to give workers time to clean and replace the food labels. “And if they showed up without notice, [correctional officers] would hold the inspectors at the gate so we could have time to hide things, ”she said.

Several reports indicate that the kitchen workers were alerted prior to the inspection. “Wait 10 minutes outside to get into the kitchen,” wrote one inspector. “Inmates cleaned.”

Arizona Department of Justice record

Arizona Department of Corrections

Hunt said that despite the unsanitary conditions, the kitchens were almost always rated “satisfactory”.

“I mean, they’d give us a ‘satisfactory’ rating even if they found dead rats,” said Hunt. “It was like there was camaraderie between the inspectors and the Trinity staff and the prison staff. Even if the kitchen was a mess, they let us get away with it. “

Hunt said she believes the poor quality food and unsanitary conditions are having serious effects on the physical and mental health of those incarcerated. But she says there is a lack of accountability on the part of the prison administration.

“They pretend you’re unreasonable for wanting a clean eating environment,” she said. “But I know they wouldn’t accept rats and cockroaches and stale, moldy food in their own homes.”

Arizona Department of Justice records held by KJZZ. were obtained

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