This article was written by BenitoLink intern Grace Gillio
Food service provider Trinity Services Group has recently received complaints from some of those who’ve been incarcerated in San Benito County Jail.
Grievance forms were submitted by incarcerated people to voice their issues with Trinity.
As part of a public records request, BenitoLink obtained the forms filed with the jail from 2015 through April 2023.
A complaint from April 2023 stated there had been issues with Trinity for months, including overcooking or undercooking food, frequent meal substitutions and removing fruits from the menu.
“These issues lead me to believe that whoever is managing Trinity is neglecting their duties to provide fair service and could quite be misappropriating state funds,” the grievance said.
Florida-based Trinity, which according to its website serves in over 40 states, did not respond to BenitoLink’s request for comment.
However, records show Trinity provided a written response dated four days following the complaint asserting that the undercooked and overcooked meals were mistakes. Trinity further responded to these claims stating, “We strive to do our best to provide the best possible meal for everyone, all while ensuring the daily nutrition value is met.”
Trinity attributed the frequent meal substitutions at the jail to supply chain issues. They said when such issues arise, steps are taken to make sure meal replacements are as nutritious as the item that is being substituted.
As for fruit being removed from the menu, Trinity said that this was not their decision.
“This was a facility-specific decision that Trinity is obligated to honor,” Trinity wrote.
Trinity ensured that the choice to eliminate fruit was reviewed by their dietitian, who took steps to make sure each meal was modified to provide suitable nutritional value despite the removal of fruit.
“Fruits have been replaced with vegetables, which provide similar nutrients for health,” said a Trinity dietitian in a written statement to the jail.
San Benito County Sheriff Eric Taylor told BenitoLink that complaints regarding food are typically forwarded to Trinity “and hopefully they can solve those complaints.” He added some of the complaints against Trinity have been warranted and others have not.
“I think we’ve had a pretty good relationship with Trinity and have tried to mitigate those complaints,” Taylor said.
San Benito County first contracted with Trinity in 2019 for $322,500 annually for three years with two one-year extensions for food and commissary services, which are provided through its sister company Keefe Group.
Taylor said he believes Trinity was chosen because it was the only provider that could prepare food in-house, as well as offer a vocational program for incarcerated persons to gain skills in the kitchen.
He added Trinity worked to revamp the previously out-of-commission kitchen at the jail.
“I do feel, and talking to the jail staff, we feel that the quality we’re being able to provide now is much higher than it was in the past just because we’re able to prepare and cook the food in our own facility,” Taylor said.
Previously, under food service provider Aramark, food was prepared in the Santa Rita Jail in Alameda County, then frozen and sent to San Benito to be reheated.
“At that time, we had a lot of complaints from the persons in our custody about the service and food selection they were getting from Aramark,” Taylor said.
The incarcerated person who filed the complaint responded, claiming staff at the jail was not correctly documenting the times when meals had improper substitutions and asked for supervisors to confirm staff reports by using surveillance videos.
“Your staff failed to provide a full meal for breakfast without substitution, we were given two slices of bread and a small portion of dry cereal,” the response read. “I do expect you to hold your staff accountable always, especially when our nutrition and wellbeing is at stake.”
In a complaint dated October 2022, an incarcerated person said he had been unsuccessfully requesting to see a dietitian to obtain a diet modification for months.
Documents show a sergeant and lieutenant at the jail responded that the meals meet or exceed Title 15 of the state regulations and that the complainant had been provided a statement of nutritional adequacy. The response also states the complainant can submit a sick call slip if he feels he is not receiving enough food and that he could speak to a doctor “if medical approves it.”
According to Title 15, in general, incarcerated people need to receive three servings of protein and dairy daily; five servings of fruits and vegetables, which includes one serving of fresh fruits and vegetables, a day; and a minimum of six servings of grain daily.
Other complaints filed against Trinity Services concern food handling.
Three complaints filed in May, June and December 2022 by the same incarcerated person describe his concerns regarding incarcerated people handling food while not wearing masks, gloves or shirts, or being cleared by medical staff. He attributed these practices to his getting sick.
“They cross-contaminate our meals and the inmates are cutting each other’s hair, touching dirty surfaces, and don’t wash their hands before grabbing trays,” the grievance stated.
Correction officers responded by saying that incarcerated people would no longer pass out food, and that those handling food are provided gloves.
“There is no law that says we cannot use other inmates in the pod to pass food,” the response to the December complaint states.
Overall, Taylor said there are difficulties in feeding such a large population and keeping everyone happy, but he is satisfied with Trinity.
“We understand that this population doesn’t have a choice in what they get to have for food so I do think that Trinity has been a good partner with us to try to make the best out of a bad situation and try to accommodate everyone in the best way they can.”
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