PORTLAND, Ore. — Complaints about food are common in prison, but some inmates at the Columbia River Correctional Institution are concerned with the dishes.
Inmates tell The Oregonian/OregonLive they’ve been eating off dirty trays and using grimy utensils since the minimum-security prison in Portland switched from a dishwashing machine to washing dishes by hand.
The Oregon Department of Corrections said the lockup changed to hand washing by inmate work crews in 2015 because doing so requires less water and the machine was unreliable and expensive to maintain.
It’s now one of five prisons statewide that relies on what corrections officials call a “three-sink method” for dish washing. The system involves dunking dirty dishes in soapy water, then clear hot water and sanitizing solution.
Since April, seven Columbia River inmates have lodged complaints about the dinnerware issue, according to the Corrections Department.
“The cups come out greasy, the trays come out greasy and the spoons come out greasy,” inmate Michael Page told the newspaper. “It’s disgusting.”
He recalled being served beans and finding cereal from breakfast stuck to the edge of the bowl. He now brings his own spoon and reuses a soda bottle for water to avoid using prison-issued dinnerware.
Jaylen Williamson said he was previously imprisoned at the Oregon State Correctional Institution in Salem, and no had complaints about the dishes. That’s not the case at Columbia River.
“When we fill our cups with water, you can see grease floating in the cup,” he said.
Corrections Department spokeswoman Betty Bernt said the agency follows rules to ensure cleanliness and the most recent visit from a health inspector found no significant issues at the prison.
Glenda Hyde, a food preservation and food safety expert with the Oregon State University Extension Service, said she was surprised to hear a prison housing 570 men washes dishes by hand given the efficiency of modern dishwashing machines.
She said washing dishes by hand can produce clean plates and utensils.
“There is an art to it,” she said. “You have to show discipline. You have to care. If you don’t do it right, somebody can get sick.”