Behind Bars, Eating Less
Many of us have had to alter our grocery shopping and dining habits as the tough economy has tightened our household budgets. But at least we have some say in what we choose to cut.
As the Associated Press reported Friday, inmates in some states' prisons are feeling the impact of budget cuts where it hurts most -- in their bellies. Several prison systems report cutting back on meals: According to the AP, prisons in Georgia, where no lunch is served on weekends already, will now serve no lunch on Fridays, either.
Inmates in Alabama are allowed only one apple or orange a week; they used to get two pieces of fruit per week. Alabama inmates also used to get seven servings of milk per week; now it's just three. Officials say that remaining meals have been made bigger (some are considering offering brunch instead of breakfast on weekends to space meals out better) and that the total number of calories delivered daily will stay the same. Prisoners who are diabetic, pregnant or who have other special needs aren't subject to food cutbacks.
The AP story quotes the mother of an inmate who says she sends money to her son so he can buy additional food from the prison commissary. But she notes that not every inmate has such help.
It's not hard to imagine that hungry inmates might get antsy and more inclined toward violence toward one another and toward guards. And, as the article notes, food could become a valuable commodity over which prisoners might be inclined to fight.
I called departments of correction in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia to see whether such measures had been taken in their systems. In Maryland, food service has actually been expanded recently to accommodate religious requirements. Spokesman Mark Vernarelli notes that the state's prison system emphasizes both cost-effectiveness but nutritional value in planning its menus, adding that the system grows some of the fruits and vegetables it serves.
I'm waiting to hear back from the folks in Virginia and the District and will let you know what they have to say. In the meantime, let's hear from you. Is cutting back on prison food a reasonable move in today's economic climate? Or is it pound-wise and penny foolish?
UPDATE: Larry Traylor, spokesman for the Virginia Department of Corrections, e-mailed me this morning:
Our menu meets or exceeds the Recommended Dietary Allowances as defined by the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Sciences. We have been hit hard by budget restraints in all areas of corrections. We did serve two meals on the weekend but we went back to three meals on the weekends because it was more nutritionally sound and because it did not save us any money in the long run. We have kept the same amount of milk and fruit on the menu as always. We have an Agribusiness that provides lots of fruits and vegetables from our inmate farms.
Jennifer LaRue Huget
June 8, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories: Health Policy , Nutrition and Fitness
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