As families gather to share Christmas meals, inmates at area jails and prisons will enjoy their own version of a holiday feast.
The meals -- which are served to thousands of inmates across the Mid-Columbia -- are cooked to help inmates cope with spending Christmas behind bars and to improve morale, corrections officials said.
"We usually prepare something special for them on Christmas," said Lt. Scott Souza of the Benton County Sheriff's Office. "They really appreciate it. It's something small. They are here for a reason, and they know that."
Staff at the Benton and Franklin county jails are making Christmas lunches for the inmates.
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Benton County is serving a roast beef lunch for the more than 500 inmates at the jail in Kennewick, Souza said. Mashed potatoes, bread stuffing, candied carrots, a dinner roll and pudding cake will accompany the meat. Inmates will get vegetarian chili for dinner.
In addition to the special lunch, Christmas bags donated by a local church are handed out to inmates, Souza said. They contain popcorn, ramen noodles, notepads, cards, calendars, hot chocolate and Scriptures.
Franklin County inmates will be served a ham lunch and then it will be "business as usual" for dinner, when inmates will most likely get a standard meal, jail officials said. There are more than 150 inmates in the jail.
The Coyote Ridge Correctional Facility in Connell and the Walla Walla State Penitentiary will serve a turkey meal to their inmates, prison officials said. Both prisons will have turkey with gravy, mashed potatoes and dessert. The turkey dinner is served at prisons across the state.
While getting inmates in the Christmas spirit isn't a priority in prison, allowing offenders to have some reminders of the holidays can improve morale, officials said.
Visiting rooms at the state penitentiary have arts and crafts, activities and gifts for children, said Shari Hall, the prison's spokesperson. A letter from Santa is also given to every child who visits.
The turkey meal and a Christmas service offered at Coyote Ridge helps offenders get through the difficult holiday season, said Lori Wonders, the prison's spokesperson. The attendance at the service is up from previous years.
"The holidays are hard for them because they are away from their families," Wonders said. "If we can keep some tradition going, while staying within the security limits, it really means something to them. You do what you can, but they are here for a reason."
-- Tyler Richardson: 582-1556; email@example.com; Twitter: @Ty_richardson