WRAL Investigates

Pizza parties for prisoners: Good cause or inappropriate perk?

Posted May 14
Updated May 15

— 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.

152 Comments

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  • commonsenseisn't May 22, 6:08 p.m.

    I am not going to debate what perks they get. What concerns me is what is really in those boxes? Weapons??? Drugs??? Cell phones??? (Pardon the pun).

  • jlove2896 May 22, 8:54 a.m.

    These pizza parties and giving these inmates direct tv does not deter the bad behavior. It only escalates it because they are so conniving and manipulative that once you do something positive for their rehabilitation they find a way to use that to get something else that they want. I have seen first hand the games that are played by inmates and it sickens me. It disgusts me to know that murders, rapists, and robbers are getting rewarded for doing something they should be doing in the first place. The system is not designed for victims it designed for defendants and that is a shame. What about us the VICTIMS? No one knows the lifelong pain and suffering we go through after the trial is over. Closure is a joke does the state give us counseling? NO, we have to pay for that ourselves. Does anyone check on us? We don't get anything to help us heal. Some victims never get over the loss of a loved one, never get over being raped or robbed, our lives are changed forever.

  • jlove2896 May 22, 8:27 a.m.

    As a former correctional officer and the family member of a murder victim, I feel totally betrayed by the justice system. These pizza parties are for the inmates plain and simple. the money does not go to charity it goes right back into the inmate indigent fund. There are about 6% of inmates who can and want to be rehabilitated the rest are just learning how to beat the system and reoffending. I see so many inmates return after getting out on parole that its a shame. Polk has church groups that come in and do a service usually once a month and they bring pizza and soda for the inmates as a reward for coming to church. REALLY? So we should reward these animals for doing the right thing? You have these advocates running around trying to save these criminals only they don't realize a lot of these inmates are liars and manipulators and every time they come back to prison they learn a new trick. These public defenders and defense lawyers tell them what they need to do and say to get off.

  • Viewer May 19, 9:16 a.m.

    I wonder if maybe they should make the pizzas in the prison kitchen. It is not that difficult, but local business's would lose out then. Result: they still get a meal but no TV coverage of this dining in.

  • LetsBeFair May 15, 7:24 p.m.

    if someone killed my mom or stole my bike ... no pizza for you.

  • "Screen Name-8/20" May 15, 6:08 p.m.

    Prison is supposed to be a deterrent. Not a place where you can catch a break now and then with... View More

    — Posted by NotUrTypicalAmerican

    Goodwill goes a long way when you're outnumbered 15-to-1. If a few pizzas help keep the peace... View More

    — Posted by KermitDFrog

    -

    That's a good point too.

  • KermitDFrog May 15, 5:13 p.m.

    Prison is supposed to be a deterrent. Not a place where you can catch a break now and then with... View More

    — Posted by NotUrTypicalAmerican

    Goodwill goes a long way when you're outnumbered 15-to-1. If a few pizzas help keep the peace and encourages good behavior, it's a small price to pay. Just ask a prison guard.

  • eyepeefreelee May 15, 5:10 p.m.

    Appropriate perk! I love pizza!

  • jurydoc May 15, 4:56 p.m.

    For all who say "it's not the taxpayer paying for it" ... other than those that have money put... View More

    — Posted by justcommonsense

    Not necessarily. If they work in prison industries they are actually producing goods and services that are bought by those in the private sector or public that have no competitive edge.

  • silverballwiz May 15, 4:41 p.m.

    How would you like to be away from your family for 14 months and only allowed to see them 2 hours a week? It makes me mad because I did not belong in there to begin with. The pizza parties are no big deal to me. The inmates are still being punished. There is too much revenge and hatred in our society. You are guilty until proven innocent.

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