Sheriff Penzone on food: 'Don't commit crimes and come to jail'

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MARICOPA COUNTY, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -

Sheriff Paul Penzone is speaking out about a hunger strike underway in his jails.

Some inmates in Maricopa County Sheriff's Office jails and their advocates started a three-day hunger strike Tuesday in order to get better food behind bars. 

[RELATED: Some inmates, advocates on hunger strike for better food in jail]

Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone said whether detainees like the taste of their food is low on his priority list.

At a news conference Wednesday, Sheriff Penzone jumped into the food fight and defended the 1,600 meals that are prepared every day for some 8,000 people locked up in Maricopa County jails.

[RAW VIDEO: Sheriff Penzone news conference about jail food]

"There's a long list of things that are important," said Penzone. "Down here at the very bottom is whether or not the detainees are happy with the taste of the food they receive."

Penzone says the meals may be bland, but they meet the nutritional demands outlined by a staffed dietitian.

On Tuesday, protesters held signs outside of the Durango Jail, demanding better food for those in jail.

They said their loved ones are only getting two meals a day and the food is so bad they wouldn't feed it to their dogs.

"The dogs at the pound probably get better food than in there," said one advocate.

But Penzone says the food meets all nutritional requirements.

"The total calorie count is 2,600 calories a day," said Penzone. "The bread is baked fresh every day; over 8,000 loaves made in-house. You can see it comes with peanut butter and whatever fruit is in season at the time. Two cartons of milk.... It is all fresh. The majority of it is made in-house.

[RAW VIDEO: Advocates speak about jail hunger strike]

Mickey Hannon, whose son is in jail, said he's been paying for commissary for his son but the food is old.

"I'm paying for food that's donated to this place and it's outdated," Hannon said.

He also said inmates get a lunch sack that has a few pieces of stale bread and old jelly.

Hannon said just because people make mistakes, doesn't mean they shouldn't be treated like human beings.

"Let's give them some real food so they're not fighting in there, so they're not arguing in there," said Hannon. "Help each other out and do what's right here, not continue this pattern that's unjust."

The sheriff says his office isn't a hotel looking for high-quality service rankings on how good their food is or how good it could be.

"Quite frankly, if the issue is the taste of the food, my recommendation for you is don't commit crimes and come to jail, because this is what we will be serving and it meets all of the expectations and requirements necessary to be a humane and responsive system," said Penzone.

Penzone also says inmates have the option of purchasing different meals from a shop inside the jail.

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