Update: Penzone to Inmates Who Don't Like MCSO Jail Food — Don't Do the Crime

Update: Sheriff Paul Penzone called a press conference Tuesday to address the hunger strike at MSCO jails.

Mickey Hannon is a worried parent — and it’s not just because his son is in jail. Hannon is worried his 25-year-old son isn’t getting enough nutrition at Towers Jail, overseen by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office.

The Phoenix resident’s son, Michael Hannon, told his father his first meal in the morning is a sack with a few stale pieces of bread with ketchup, jelly, and three scoops of peanut butter.

The next food the inmates receive each day is tasteless slop that's served anywhere between “nine to 19 hours” after the first meal, Hannon says. The inmates don't know what's in it.

And that’s all.

Because of this, Hannon’s son is participating in a hunger strike, his father says, that started this morning in at least one of the county's five jails. Participating inmates intend to fast for at least three days in hopes that the sheriff's office will hear their plea for better, more consistent food.

Mickey Hannon says he’s a little worried the fast will be hard on his son, but he encouraged him to take a stand for his rights.

“It’s very frustrating and it’s very troubling,” Hannon said of the nutritional situation at the jail. “But this is not just about my son. This is about fellow human beings that are treated poorly and not being fed due to some of the mistakes they made in the past.”

He says his son will only have to endure the meals for another six weeks while he’s in jail, but he wants to take a stand for future Arizona inmates.

On Wednesday, Sheriff Penzone addressed the concerns of inmates and activists accusing the jail of serving “Arpaio’s slop.” However, Penzone said public safety and increasing the department’s manpower ranked much higher than the slop.

“Meeting the needs of this county as it relates to public safety and detention is 1A for me,” he said. "Then, there’s a long list of many other things that are important and then down here at the very bottom are whether or not the detainees are happy with the taste of the food they receive.”

As of today, 23 inmates opted out of their meals. This is just a small fraction of the 8,000 inmates served, Penzone said.

Penzone repeatedly said that the meals met the court-ordered mandate for nutritional value and provide a total calorie count of 2,600 — the daily recommended amount.

Inmates are distributed two meals each day, once at 8 a.m. and one at 5 or 6 p.m.

Penzone said more than 8,000 loaves of breads are baked daily as part of the 16,000 meals delivered.

In addition to bread, inmates receive milk, seasonal fruit and vegetables, and a soy-based meal. The "meal" looks similar to day-old chili and tastes like a plain, mashed pinto bean (yes, we tried it.)

Penzone admitted that the meals don’t taste good, mostly because there is no added salt or spice. This is because of religious and dietary restraints the on-staff dietitian has to work within.

“Am I concerned that what we do is humane? Absolutely,” Penzone said. "But if you’re asking if my concern is satisfying the taste buds of our inmates? It’s not.”

Penzone said inmates do have the option to pay for food through the cantina.

His advice to inmates not satisfied with jail food? Don’t commit crimes.

Salvador Reza — a civil-rights activist who's been speaking out against former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio for years — said prisoners shouldn’t be subjected to the inconsistency and the “liquefied” evening meal he described as “mush of food.”

“They’re violating human rights of people by not giving them the right food,” Reza said. “[Inmates are] not there to be starved or undernourished, they’re there to be rehabilitated and serve their time.”

Reza said current Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone “should have foreseen” the hunger strike and says meal plans at the jail haven’t changed since Arpaio’s reign.

Arpaio famously served a blend of several kinds of food like nonfat dry milk powder, fruit, chili powder, and bread dough mixed together and baked into a flavorless brick called a “nutraloaf.”

Both Reza and Hannon also say they’ve heard food for sale in the commissary, which serves as a little convenience store within a jail with snacks, is often expired and donated.

“My son is lucky because I give him a little money for commissary,” Hannon said. “But some individuals have no money and do not get commissary and so there’s that lack of nutrition throughout the day.”

Even with the snacks and extra meals Hannon’s son buys, he says he still doesn’t feel like he’s getting proper nutrition. He tells his dad he feels sluggish and too weak to get in a good workout at the jail most days.

“We’re demanding Penzone to [protect] human rights of people,” Reza said. “That he treat them like human beings, not like dogs.”

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Molly Longman
Lindsay Moore