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A Sheriff Goes to Jail for Not Using Operations Research

An Alabama sheriff spent time in jail for not feeding his prisoners enough.  From the CNN Report:

A federal judge ordered a north Alabama sheriff jailed this week, saying the lawman intentionally served jail inmates “woefully insufficient” meals in order to pocket more than $200,000.

At issue is an Alabama law that attorneys for the inmates claim provides sheriffs with an incentive to skimp on feeding inmates. Under the law, sheriffs are permitted to keep — as personal income — money left over after purchasing food for inmates.

The state provides sheriffs with $1.75 per day per inmate for food, according to the Alabama Attorney General’s Office. However, in a March 2008 opinion, the office affirmed that sheriffs may legally keep what is left over.

A typical dinner was two hot dogs or meat patties; a slice of bread; and mixed vegetables or baked beans, the judge wrote.

Of course, if Sheriff Bartlett had studied operations research, he would have immediately recognized his issue as the well-known “diet problem” in linear programming.  A quick google search would have led him to the NEOS page on the subject.  Some clicks, and the magic of linear programming gives an optimal diet of cost just 96 cents:

The Optimized Menu

The cost of this optimal diet is $0.96 per day.

The Solution and Cost Breakdown by Food

Food Servings Cost ($)
Carrots,Raw 0.24 0.02
Peanut Butter 3.60 0.25
Popcorn,Air-Popped 4.82 0.19
Potatoes, Baked 3.54 0.21
Skim Milk 2.17 0.28

2000 calories, and it meets all the nutritional requirements. I bet the Sheriff wasn’t making 79 cents off each prisoner per day with his plan! I would love to see the lawyers get a hold of this: “But judge: potatoes with peanut butter are the perfect food! Carrots on the side, and milk to wash it down. We even give them popcorn for movie night! What’s not to like?”

{ 5 } Comments

  1. Sebastian Nowozin | January 19, 2009 at 6:50 am | Permalink

    Speaking of the feasibility of the above diet, here is another funny anecdote, this one about George Dantzig’s personal diet linear program (the optimal solution consisting of no less than 200 bouillon cubes per day):

  2. Mark | January 22, 2009 at 5:24 am | Permalink

    Haha…That is very cool…And sebastian, that one is funny too

  3. Laura | January 23, 2009 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    Very amusing. But your approach only works until the lactose intolerant inmate files a lawsuit. 🙂

  4. Michael Trick | January 23, 2009 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    Lactose intolerance costs quite a bit:

    The Solution and Cost Breakdown by Food
    Food Servings Cost ($)
    Frozen Broccoli 4.26 0.68
    Scrambled Eggs 1.14 0.12
    Popcorn,Air-Popped 9.88 0.40
    Pork 0.57 0.46
    Potatoes, Baked 0.56 0.03

    for a cost of $1.70 (if I understand lactose intolerance).

  5. Adam N | January 26, 2009 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

    I think it’s about time I changed my job and became a sheriff! That’s a perfectly healthy menu right there

{ 2 } Trackbacks

  1. […] we OR-ers talk and research about food; for example, here, here (excellent recipes), and mainly, here, where Mick Trick shows us how to resolve our problem by means of what we call ‘the diet […]

  2. […] the past, I have used the diet problem for laughs, but this seems to be a real application for  operations research that could be very useful (if it […]

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