A proposal in Madison that would give jails the discretion to feed inmates two meals a day instead of three would breach national nutritional standards for prisoners, jail officials in Rock and Walworth counties said Wednesday.

State Rep. Mark Radcliff, D-Black River Falls, is proposing a bill that would decrease the number of meals for state prison inmates and give county sheriffs the option to follow suit.

Radcliff said Wednesday he got the idea from a correctional officer in his hometown. The officer said a lot of food in the three meals is thrown away.

Radcliff said he estimates two meals a day in prisons would save the state $5 million annually, savings that could help retire the state deficit. Radcliff could not say how much money his proposal would save counties.

Rock County Jail Cmdr. Erik Chellevold said jails have baseline standards that must be met, including the number of calories provided daily to inmates.

“They’re going to have a hard time getting support for it,” Chellevold said. “It goes against best correctional practices, which call for three meals a day, two of them being hot.

“I don’t’ expect the sheriff (Bob Spoden) would follow that law,” he said.

Radcliff said inmates who need three meals a day for medical reasons, such as controlling blood sugar for diabetes, could get it with a doctor’s order.

Walworth County Jail Administrator Michael Schmitz doubts Sheriff David Graves would follow the law if it’s enacted.

“Why would the sheriff want to be told how to run the jail?” Schmitz asked. “It cuts into his power to run the jail.”

Meals keep jails tranquil, Schmitz said.

“Food is kind of important in regulating the safety and security of a building,” Schmitz said.

The average jail meal costs Walworth County $1.04. Last year, the county spent $350,588 serving about 337,103 meals, Schmitz said.

Schmitz questioned how reducing the number of daily meals would save money. Each meal would involve more food to maintain the daily requirement of calories. That likely would mean the cost of each meal would rise, killing any savings, he said.

Rock County served 427,249 jail meals last year at a cost of about $1.07 per meal for an annual expense of $457, 156, Chellevold said. Meals for both jails are funded by the counties.

“I don’t believe we’d save any money if we went down to two meals a day because we would have to serve larger portions to accommodate the daily calorie allowance—a minimum of 2,900 calories a day—and that would adjust the cost per meal upward,” Chellevold said.

Both jails follow best-practice standards followed by the American Correctional Standards Association.

Radcliff tried and failed to advance the meal measure in the last legislative session. He also offered the bill as an amendment to the budget repair bill. It was not accepted.

“I understand there are some initial questions about it, but it should save money,” he said.