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Nearly two dozen inmates go on hunger strike in Maricopa County jails

(AP Photo/Matt York)

PHOENIX — Nearly two dozen inmates in Maricopa County jails have gone on a hunger strike in an effort to get better food behind bars.

According to Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone, 23 inmates have refused to eat at least two meals in the strike.

Penzone said Wednesday the inmates are served two meals per day — breakfast and dinner — which meet the nutritional demands of a majority of the prisoners, save for any dietary or religious standards.

The sheriff said he is not interested in making issues “where there are none” and taking away valuable resources from what he believes are priorities within the department, including keeping his staff members safe.

“We are not a hotel looking for high-quality service rankings on how good our food is or how good it could be,” Penzone said.

The inmates eat bread with peanut butter, fruit and two milk cartons in the morning and a soy-based dinner with vegetables, beans, bread and an apple at night. The two meals make up 2,600 calories per day.

The meals, Penzone said, are more bland than usual but meet the nutritional demands that were outlined by a staffed dietitian.

Penzone said the department will not be implementing other meals to appeal to the inmates due to the cost, but said if they do not like the food, they have the option of purchasing different options from a jail shop.

“We have a clean, humane, high-volume operation” that serves 16,000 meals per day in a “fresh and efficient manner,” Penzone said. “We have no capacity to build out meals.”

“My priority is taking care of the men and women in this organization who work to keep the community safe, not satisfying the taste buds of our inmates,” he added.

The meals were implemented by Penzone’s predecessor, former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, in response to various lawsuits and court orders.

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