Pizza parties for prisoners: Good cause or inappropriate perk?
Posted May 14
Updated May 15
Lillington, N.C. — Hundreds of pizzas, wings, chicken poppers, cheese sticks and doughnuts have been delivered to inmates at the Harnett Correctional Institution in the past year, WRAL Investigates found. Prison officials say the pizza parties are a positive part of inmates’ rehabilitation, but victims’ advocates say the practice is inappropriate.
The food deliveries are part of a fundraiser for the only all-inmate Jaycees chapter in the state. The chapter puts up posters prior to delivery day to show inmates what will be for sale and how much it will cost, but the flier doesn't mention anything about fundraising.
The inmates use money they earn in prison, which ranges from 40 cents to $1 a day, to buy the food. They can also use money deposited into their accounts by friends and family.
“This type of activity, the fundraiser part of it, is about inmates doing something positive,” said Nicole Sullivan, who leads the Division of Prisons' rehabilitation program. “I believe there is an awareness that the purpose of the food sale is as a fundraiser to support a charitable event.”
Sullivan says the charitable aspect of the fundraisers outweighs the fact that inmates get a pizza and wing party.
“They’re very interested and eager to give back and show the world that maybe they have changed and they can change,” she said.
WRAL Investigates witnessed a recent delivery of 364 pizzas and 137 orders of Buffalo wings, totaling about $2,500. It was one of the eight similar food sales at the prison in the past year. Prison leaders say the pizza party generated $3,300 – more than $800 profit.
Over the past three years, the Jaycees chapter donated nearly $3,000 to charities:
2013 - $450 total
- Jaycee Cottage at Lake Waccamaw Boys & Girls Home - $75
- NC Jaycee Burn Center - $75
- Gift cards for needy families at Christmas (Harnett Social Services) – two cards at $150 each
2012 - $875 total
- Jaycee Burn Center - $175
- Jaycee Cottage at Lake Waccamaw Boys & Girls Home - $175
- Muscular Distrophy Association - $175
- St Jude’s Childrens Hospital - $175
- Cystic Fibrosis Foundation - $175
2011 - $1,600 total
- Cystic Fibrosis Foundation - $150
- NC Jaycee Burn Center - $150
- Jaycee Cottage at Lake Waccamaw Boys & Girls Home - $150
- Muscular Distrophy Association - $150
- Gift cards for needy families at Christmas (Harnett Social Services) – five cards at $200 each
The inmates also provided gift cards to needy families in the community. Department of Public Safety officials say the positive impact on the community and the inmates makes the food deliveries worthwhile.
Nearly 500 pizzas from Papa Johns were delivered last April. In May, more than 170 dozen donuts from Krispy Kreme were sold to inmates. In June, the inmates received pizza, chicken poppers and cheese sticks from Dominos. Burger King was on the menu in August, and on Super Bowl Sunday, inmates could purchase frozen lasagna and fried chicken from the local Carlie Cs IGA grocery store.
“It’s inappropriate,” said Wayne Uber, a victims’ advocate who works with HALOS, Helping All Loved Ones Survive, a local group that provides support for people whose loved ones are murdered. Uber's own brother was killed at the hands of someone else. “I’m not anti-offender, but I am pro-justice. When it comes to pizza night or chicken night inside prison, that doesn’t sound like punishment.”
Harnett Correctional is home to approximately 980 inmates, including 196 convicted murderers and 316 inmates convicted of sex-related crimes. Twenty-three of the prison's inmates make up the Jaycees chapter, but Uber says he believes the food sale program, even though it's for charity, crosses the line.
“The state reverses its role. Instead of being an adversary, it becomes an advocate for the offender,” Uber said.
Prison officials disagree.
“It is about rehabilitation, and that’s an aspect of the punishment,” Sullivan said. “The food part is not really the thing to focus on. It really is focusing on the opportunity to do a positive thing and make a contribution.”
When put in the context of charity, state Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, sees no problem with the frequent food deliveries to inmates.
“There’s no taxpayer money involved with this program whatsoever. It’s a purely volunteer thing, and the profit from it goes to charity,” he said. “It appears to be a well thought out and balanced program.”
While the Division of Prisons says the food deliveries improve morale, they can create conflict between inmates who order and those who don't have enough money in their accounts. The takeout food isn't a luxury at just Harnett Correctional. Other prisons have service groups that also use food as a fundraiser.