While we continue to support alternatives to incarceration, a dramatic drop in the prison population is unlikely in the near future. That means no real cost relief is on the horizon for the state's obese corrections budget.
So a proposal by two state legislators to slice one meal a day off the menu at jails and prisons is worth a deeper look.
The bill sponsored by Democratic state Reps. Mark Radcliffe and Chris Danou would prevent prison wardens from serving more than two meals each day. Only if a doctor indicates an inmate needs the third meal could he receive it.
County sheriffs who run jails would have the option to eliminate the third meal. The idea is to cut in-house labor costs or shrink contracts, depending on who does the cooking at the institution.
Prisoners are entitled to humane treatment. They're not automatically entitled to prolonged traditions.
The concept of eating three meals a day is rooted in history. It fit the schedules of monks and provided laborers the calories they needed at the right times.
Some nutrition experts today suggest eating lighter meals more often during the day. Others counter that the two-meal approach is best. The point is the old way isn't necessarily the best way.
We agree with state Rep. Robin Vos that the change should go on the table as a possible solution to the state's budget mess. As the Republican from Rochester indicated, though, it cannot be done at the expense of inmate safety.
The state should examine whether the switch would cause harm. Although Assembly Bill 77 doesn't require a cut in the daily calorie count, the final version should prevent wardens and sheriffs from doing so.
The state should also determine the savings. If it would approach the $5 million Radcliffe has reportedly estimated, an agency that budgeted $2.5 billion for the past two years could look a little leaner. Otherwise it wouldn't be worth inviting the protests some corrections officials fear.
All of that will become clearer under the magnifying glass, which is why legislators should take this idea seriously. If the nutritional impact is minor and the budgetary impact is major, it would be one of the few no-brainers in what promises to be a mind-numbing political slugfest.