A massive new kitchen will help relieve crowding for food workers at a Wilmington-based prison.
For more than 30 years, thousands of inmates have been held at Howard R. Young Correctional Institution in Wilmington.
The prison, formerly known as Gander Hill, was designed to hold 360 inmates when it opened in 1982. Over the years, expansions have brought the current capacity to 1,180. The current average population at the prison now stands at 1,700.
The overcrowded conditions at the prison caused problems for workers trying to prepare meals in the prison’s cramped kitchen. That’s why prison leaders were all smiles as they showed off the new $26 million kitchen expansion. New amenities include a blast chiller, new industrial-sized equipment and expanded storage areas.
“This facility has grown over the years, there’s been additions adding extra beds for offenders,” said Robert Coupe, commissioner of the state’s Department of Correction. “But the kitchen space has not expanded and that put a real challenge for us preparing meals every day.”
Coupe has led the departments for about 1 1/2 years after stepping down as superintendent of the Delaware State Police. He recently led state and city leaders on the tour through the brand-new kitchen, which is slated to open for business in the beginning of September.
“Our food service team here will start working with the offenders who work in the kitchen, and they’ll start doing some dry runs with some of the preparation,” Coupe said.
While no offenders were present during the tour, prison officials expect that approximately 60 inmates will work side by side with prison staff to prepare food for the rest of the prison. Jobs for inmates include everything from dishwasher to head cook.
“It’s not an actual culinary arts program,” Coupe said, but noted that inmates learn bulk food-preparation methods in addition to how to keep food from spoiling or being contaminated in the kitchen.
“Many of our offenders who are in the program long enough, they’ll get certified in that,” he said, “which is a great help if they want to go out and try to work in the restaurant business, to already have that certification, so that’s good experience.”
The kitchen work also offers inmates a chance learn work routines. Inmates being work in the kitchen early in the morning and continue operations throughout the day.
“There’s a lot of work to be done,” Coupe observed.
Statewide, inmate meals cost the state $15 million dollars a year. With about nine million prison meals served annually, that translates to a cost of just $1.66 per meal.