Good Food Makes Good Inmates

The Chicago Tribune has a three page article about how prison food has evolved the past few years, the theory being, bad food can cause riots and good food makes for good inmates.

Consider the problem: How to provide 2,900 calories a day for $.92 a meal.

Since the American Correctional Association created nutritional guidelines in the 1970s, prisoner meals have adhered to strict dietary standards. Jails and prisons have their own dietitians counting calories and sodium levels, as do contractors like Aramark, which provides food to facilities across Illinois.

Consider this statistic:

From 1900 to 1995, food sparked more than 40 of the 1,334 prison riots in the United States, including the country's deadliest uprising in 1971, when 43 people died at New York's Attica prison, said Gordon A. Crews, co-author of "A History of Correctional Violence."


The jail riots were not so much about the quality of the food.

Most food-related outbreaks involved prisoners being restricted from the commissary, he said. Few riots were over nutrition. "Inmates didn't care about a balanced meal," he said. "They just didn't want maggots in it."

But fiscal constraints led to lessening of the meat and upping of the carbs like pasta and rice.

There's also security concerns:

At a Michigan prison, spinach is off the menu because inmates might dry the vegetable and smoke it, Wakeen said.

At the Lake County jail, pepper is absent because prisoners could throw it in a guard's face. And the meat at the facility must be tender enough to cut with a spoon—the only utensil inmates are allowed to use.

Then there's food used as punishment:

But some facilities also use food as a form of punishment. For inmates who throw food or trays, the Lake County Jail serves what is called a "nutra loaf," in which a meal is blended and baked to create a bland log that meets dietary requirements.

Here's a recipe for prison loaf. Some say it's worse than solitary confinement. An inmate in Illinois sued over the loaf, and lost.

If you really want to feel queasy, read about how they prepare the food in LA's county jails.

As you are enjoying your Christmas meal this year, I hope you'll give some thought to the more than 2 million inmates of our nation's jails and prisons. They may be offenders, and yes, some have done some bad things, but they are people too.

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  • Display: Sort:
    Prison Food (none / 0) (#1)
    by convict on Sun Dec 23, 2007 at 12:36:29 AM EST

    ..thanks for that Jeralyn

    "please sir, may i 'ave some more?" (none / 0) (#2)
    by cpinva on Sun Dec 23, 2007 at 12:46:13 AM EST
    "more, you want more?"

    with apologies to c. dickens.

    there are those who would argue that many innocent children go to bed hungry, so convicts enjoying the benefit of 3 nutritionally sound meals a day have nothing to complain about. and they'd be right! in a lawnorderthrowawaythekeys kind of way.

    that many children, in the wealthiest country in the world, do go to bed hungry, is a national tragedy, a crime in and of itself. that said, napoleon was right, "an army travels on its stomach." smart guy that he was, he recognized that well fed troops tend to be happier, better disciplined troops.

    something for those running our nation's penal systems to consider.

    Prisoners and citizens are people too (none / 0) (#3)
    by koshembos on Sun Dec 23, 2007 at 08:09:36 AM EST
    Warehousing of prisoners is totally hidden from the regular population. We seldom read, hear or see about them in the media. This way we dehumanize them, feed them crap, $.92 a day, and forget about where they came from.

    Same happens to our poor except for the mandatory prison walls. Like prisoners, they seldom get to see a better life, escape their lot or be read about, heard from or seen. Come election time, they are as important as prisoners; no one considers them or their representative.

    No wonder the next step is the middle class. After all, no one fights for anyone who isn't already eating at a restaurant for $100 a head.

    The system is called Democracy, for historical reasons.

    Often when I visit a jail or prison (none / 0) (#4)
    by JSN on Sun Dec 23, 2007 at 09:15:33 AM EST
    I see SYSCO or their equivalent trucks making food deliveries so it appears that jail/prison food is similar to school cafeteria food. I would not be surprised to learn that it becomes boring.
    The prisoners are very ingenious about making booze out of food and other unlikely ingredients so there are special problems with providing food in prison.

    What bothers me the most about visiting jails/prisons is to see so many healthy people who are idle instead of being employed doing something productive. The select few who have jobs with Prison Industries have job skills that do not transfer well to jobs outside. Another problem is the PI does not want to spend the money training their workers so they tend to hire lifers and persons serving long sentences who will either die in prison or will be too old to work when they do get outside.

    If the rest of the prisoners are lucky they can get a part-time prison job in food service, custodial work or groundskeeping. The warden has a very small budget to pay for such work and pay rates of $0.50 per hour are typical and the state of Iowa keeps most of that.

    Businesses and unions do not like PI because they think it is unfair competition and in some cases it is. OTOH by not providing job training for prisoners so they can find work outside they are more likely to return to prison where they taxpayers have to support them. I doubt very much that businesses and unions  like to pay taxes any more than the rest of us.

    How Many Prisoners? (none / 0) (#6)
    by squeaky on Sun Dec 23, 2007 at 02:41:44 PM EST
    What a waste of energy. Wonder how much electricity they would generate if they worked stationary bicycles that were connected to generators for a mere 2-3 hours a day?

    With the prison population at 7 million I bet they could solve our energy needs.


    It's a valid point (none / 0) (#5)
    by Packratt on Sun Dec 23, 2007 at 10:45:35 AM EST
    and it's a good post, thank you.

    But, to be honest, I don't remember much about the food during my stay at KCCF since I was too injured to eat much. In fact, I lost 30 lbs in two weeks because of my untreated injuries.

    I do recall that guards would delay meals as a form of mass punishment if they felt the cell you were in was problematic and that 1/3 of prisoners would choose vegetarian diets because, as they said, it tasted better than the regular food.

    I also heard from trustees that you didn't want to think about what the prisoners who prepared the food did to that food... they would advise, however, that you never eat the chili or any other sauce/gravy type food for whatever reason.

    I do recall that we got those lovely little toothpaste tubes that were recalled because of they had antifreeze in them... and we were ordered to use our toothpaste to clean the walls of our tanks before inspections.

    But that's the only slightly food related stuff I can remember. That, and I recall that Thanksgiving was horribly depressing.

    "Most riots are over the commissary" (none / 0) (#7)
    by diogenes on Mon Dec 24, 2007 at 01:40:08 PM EST
    "Most food-related outbreaks involved prisoners being restricted from the commissary, he said. Few riots were over nutrition. "Inmates didn't care about a balanced meal,"

    So the quality of the food doesn't matter, and commissary may be restricted due to tensions, lockdowns, staffing issues, or guard sadism (not clear here).
    The lesson is to always keep the commisary open; maybe a useful lesson, but not one that will help nutrition since people usually buy junk food from commissary.  
    In our jail inmates usually gain weight, often muscle (maybe exercising due to boredom). As Chris Rock said, only in America are the poor people fat.