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January 3, 2014

"Food As Punishment: Giving U.S. Inmates 'The Loaf' Persists"

NutraloafThe title of this post is the headline of this interesting new NPR segment. Here are excerpts:

In many prisons and jails across the U.S., punishment can come in the form of a bland, brownish lump. Known as nutraloaf, or simply "the loaf," it's fed day after day to inmates who throw food or, in some cases, get violent. Even though it meets nutritional guidelines, civil rights activists urge against the use of the brick-shaped meal.

Tasteless food as punishment is nothing new: Back in the 19th century, prisoners were given bread and water until they'd earned with good behavior the right to eat meat and cheese. But the loaf is something above and beyond. Prisons and jails are allowed to come up with their own version, so some resort to grinding up leftovers into a dense mass that's reheated. Other institutions make loaves from scratch out of shredded and mashed vegetables, beans and starches. They're rendered even more unappetizing by being served in a small paper sack, with no seasoning.

Prisoners who've had the loaf hate it. Johnnie Walton had to eat it in the Tamms Supermax in Chicago. He describes it as "bland, like cardboard." Aaron Fraser got the loaf while he was serving time from 2004 to 2007 in several different institutions for a counterfeit-check scheme. He loathed it. "They take a bunch of guck, like whatever they have available, and they put it in some machine," Fraser says. "I would have to be on the point of dizziness when I know I have no choice [to eat it]."

No one knows exactly how many institutions use it, but Benson Li, the former president of the Association of Correctional Food Service Affiliates, estimates that the number is over 100. At least 12 states — including California, Texas and New York — serve it in state-run institutions, as do dozens of municipal and county jails across the country.

In Pennsylvania state prisons, "food loaf" is made with milk, rice, potatoes, carrots, cabbage, oatmeal, beans and margarine. The Clark County Jail in Washington state serves a version with most of those ingredients, plus ground beef or chicken, apples and tomatoes.

Law enforcement says the loaf isn't so bad. "It's a food source; it contains all the vitamins and nutrients and minerals that a human being needs," says Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, who has used the loaf in his jail for five years. "It's been approved by the courts. I've had it myself — it's like eating meatloaf. "

But prisoners who misbehave don't just get it once. They have to eat it at every meal, for days or weeks at a time. That's why it works as a deterrent, says Sheriff Clarke. "If you're up on a first-degree murder charge, or some serious sexual assault of a child, you don't have much to lose in jail," says Clarke.

"But when we started to use this in the disciplinary pods, all of a sudden the incidence of fights, disorder, of attacks against our staff started to drop tremendously. The word got around — we knew it would. And we'll often hear from inmates, 'Please, please, I won't do that anymore. Don't put me in the disciplinary pod. I don't want to eat nutraloaf.' "

Scientists say it's the monotony of eating the loaf that's the real punishment. Marcia Pelchat, a physiological psychologist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, says humans have evolved to crave a variety of food. "Having to eat the loaf over and over again probably makes people miserable. They might be a little nauseated by it, they're craving other foods," says Pelchat....

"Given that food is clearly recognized as a basic human need to which prisoners are constitutionally entitled, restrictions on food, taking away food has always been sort of legally right on the line," says David Fathi, director of the National Prison Project for the American Civil Liberties Union.

There's no guidance from the government on using the loaf, but the American Correctional Association, which accredits prisons and sets best practices for the industry, discourages using food as a disciplinary measure. The Federal Bureau of Prisons says it has never used the loaf in its facilities. Still, the loaf persists in other parts of the corrections system, and no agencies or organizations are keeping track of where and how often it's used.

So Benson Li, the former president of the Association of Correctional Food Service Affiliates and the food service director at the Los Angeles County Jail, offered to help us find that out. At a recent meeting of the association, Li conducted an informal survey at the request of NPR. About 40 percent of the prisons and jails that responded said their use of the loaf is diminishing, 30 percent said they do not use nutraloaf, and about 20 percent said their use was about the same or slightly growing.

Li says that, overall, the results suggest that the loaf is gradually being phased out. "[Prisons and jails] are using less or some of them are using sparingly — maybe just two to three times in the last year," he says.

Li says he thinks one of the reasons for this is that prisoners have been challenging the loaf in the courts. "You have seen a lot of different inmate claims and lawsuits against the Eighth Amendment in different states," he says.

One of the provisions of the Eighth Amendment is that "cruel and unusual punishment" not be inflicted on prisoners. So the prisoners who are filing these suits are hoping the courts will rule that chewing on loaf day after day is unconstitutional. And, believe it or not, there is precedent: In the 1970s, the Supreme Court ruled that a potatey prison paste called grue should be outlawed under the Eighth amendment.

The loaf has held up better than grue. Of the 22 cases brought since the beginning of 2012 alone, none have succeeded. But Li's informal survey suggests that the court cases are making the corrections industry increasingly squeamish about serving it.

And Fathi of the ACLU says this is part of a bigger transformation happening in the industry. "The fading of the use of nutraloaf is part of a larger long-term trend toward professionalization and, in most respects, more humane conditions of confinement," he says.

January 3, 2014 at 07:43 AM | Permalink

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| Prisoners who've had the loaf hate it. Johnnie Walton had to eat it in the Tamms Supermax in Chicago. |
| Johnnie Walton: “My family and loved ones can attest to the fact that I am extremely bitter, I’m extremely angry … I’m a ticking time bomb.”|

1). -- How does someone get to the Supermax? By selflessly distributing tasty food to others?
No. By violently offensively attacking other inmates or staff.

2). -- I’ve talked to those who’ve had the loaf in NY, and indirectly in FL: it's not that bad.
Have you ever had the Veggie-burger MRE? Same with less salt, and usually less protein.

Certainly the loaf's potency is dependent on monotony; but what’s the preferred disciplinary technique for Supermax murderers?

Posted by: Adamakis | Jan 3, 2014 8:57:23 AM

I don't know who watches Orange is the New Black here, but in that show the main character is served this "loaf" at one point after she gets thrown in the SHU for whatever reason. Anyway, main character doesn't chow down on this source of daily nutrition till after she's been there for days as hunger motivates her to eat the gross composite of food in front of her. Basically, this highlights one of the side effects of food like this, instead of being upset that what they have to eat is particularly disgusting and grudgingly eating the loaf, some people would choose an empty belly instead. Well that's their choice! I'd say, no, not really, because if that mush of whatever that can't even be described as meat was staring the reasonable person in the face, they'd say "No, thank you." If the everyday person would refuse it, then it's not unlikely a prisoner would too and instead of punishment food prisons could potentially be serving starvation as punishment.

Posted by: Elizabeth Young | Jan 3, 2014 9:54:56 AM

Deliberately bad food is often the major cause of prison riots and hostage incidents. It would thus be to the best interests of corrections officers and others who have the most direct contact with inmates to make sure that bad food does not become an excuse for insurrection.

Posted by: william r. delzell | Jan 3, 2014 10:25:20 AM

The inmates would do well to not throw "food" when they riot. The next thing which comes to mind is the aftermath of food. Do the math. Or as one guard said on Good Friday, Holy Crap.

Posted by: Liberty1st | Jan 3, 2014 11:06:17 AM

If "the loaf" had gone 22-0 in the major leagues, it would win the Cy Young award hands down.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jan 3, 2014 11:32:53 AM

I'm a fan of Orange Is the New Black. I saw the episode about loaf in the SHU. According to the book the series is based on, Piper Kermin did not get sent to the SHU at any point during her sentence.

Posted by: Bryan Gates | Jan 3, 2014 2:47:03 PM

Am wondering what the scope of a right to eat tasty food would be?

I know that many others eating institutional food are very used to bland, tasteless food. (Not fondly recalling the cafeteria food of college and law school, how many days in a row can scrod be the entree?)

While most people would probably prefer not to eat the loaf, that does not mean that prisons do not have at least colorable reasons reasons for choosing bland easy to serve food that meets constitutional standards.

Posted by: tmm | Jan 3, 2014 6:45:41 PM

This is another example of the criminal lobby, due to its intense focus and federal fee shifting statutes, trying (and being partially successful) to dictate sentencing policy. Certainly, a prison regime can impose fully nutritious but unappealing food as a baseline with better food to be earned by good behavior.

But we see the same old nonsense on stilts proffered by the soft on crime twits. "Starvation as punishment"--um, if they're that hungry, Nutraloaf will taste great.

And it's so cute how the ACLU twit associates Nutraloaf with unprofessional conduct on the part of prison staff.

Posted by: federalist | Jan 3, 2014 8:46:48 PM

federalist --

Nailed it. This is almost a parody of the shopworn defense tactic of complaining about anything and everything, then seeing if something sticks.

When you lose 22 of the same lawsuits in a row, the cause of action is frivolous. They should get stuck with sanctions when they file No. 23.

These people -- criminals, every one -- are eating better than the GI's who lived off C-rations while fighting for the country. But still they complain.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jan 3, 2014 10:08:18 PM

well fed and bill what suprises me is that none of the inmates have tried to give the guards a taste. Maybe after shoving it up their ass sideways....

I would.

Posted by: rodsmithi | Jan 4, 2014 12:51:57 AM

Given the various methods to prevent prison disorder, the loaf is probably one of the more benign ones. I think it can be subject to abuses; it should not be used longer than necessary or vindictively. However, it beats the hell out solitary confinement as a punishment. I can see specific civil liberty actions based on the abuses, but I'd argue a per se rule would probably do more harm than good to the cause that they're fighting for. Really, lack of adequate space or medical care will be bigger issues for the foreseeable future.

That being said, I've talked to corrections officers who have said that if you treat a prisoner like an animal, he'll behave like an animal; if you treat them like a person, they'll behave like a person (barring cases of mental illness, of course). There are prisons with convicted violent felons that let the prisoners freely roam the facility and encounter few behavioral problems. Of course, that carrot comes with the stick of lost privileges. The loaf can be seen on that same category, it just clearly can't be done as a method of establishing some kind of pecking order or else you run into the very problem "treating them like a person" was supposed to address.

Posted by: Erik M | Jan 4, 2014 1:07:42 AM

Erik M --

1. Do you view the loaf as being less desirable than C-rations? If so, on what basis? If not, why should prisoners be fed better than soldiers fighting for the country?

2. I keep hearing that we're spending too much in the prison budget, but now I hear that we need to spend more, for tastier food. Which is it?

3. To give a man nutritious but bland and ugly food is not to treat him as an animal. Or did all 22 courts get it wrong?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jan 4, 2014 1:43:30 AM

In Goodfellas they sliced garlic with razor blades to properly flavor their meatballs. As inthe outside, let the loaf be the baseline meal 3 times a day. It will reduce obesity as a side benefit. If people wantbetter let them pay for it or earn it by snitching or other productive acts.

This Hate America race whore wrote a book about travels in Africa. He was arrested in Nigeria on made up charges. Meals are not included in the Nigerian prison plan. He had family have food delivered. He had to share with many starving fellow prisoners. Loaf would not be litigated in Nigeria.

Prof. Berman would do us a good service by blogging international law and policy, and not just the Ritz Carlton jails of Scandinavia.

Posted by: Suptemacy Claus | Jan 4, 2014 6:49:40 AM

C-rations were for short term use--not to exceed 3 days. C-rations were phased out in 1958. Today the military uses MRE's. MRE's are to be used for a maximum of 21 days. In the USAF MRE's have been referred to as "Meals, Rarely Edible." To maintain morale, the US military tries to get hot food to the troops whenever possible. Is use of the loaf limited to 21 days? Here is a link to the 2013 MRE menu: http://www.mreinfo.com/us/mre/menus-xxxiii-2013.html
I think I rather eat MRE's than the loaf.

Posted by: ? | Jan 4, 2014 2:47:17 PM

? --

If our troops can eat C-rations, or MRE's or whatever they're called now, our prisoners can. Period. The notion that, as matter of policy or of constitutional law, felons get to eat better than soldiers is preposterous to the point of being mind-blowing. Only on a defense lawyer-oriented blog, where most of the people comment anonymously, would such an idea even be floated.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jan 4, 2014 3:03:37 PM

LOL I used to tell people to stop getting their information from watching "Oz." I guess now it is "Orange is the New Black." You do realize that the show is fictional, correct? Piper Kermin went to a Federal Prison in Connecticut, the show is set in NY. The Feds have never used loaf.

I have tasted it. Not exactly Thanksgiving dinner but not like eating a crap sandwich either. It can be issued for no more than two weeks at a time and, if I remember correctly, there must be at least a week of regular food in between. Let's look at the range of punishments (if people on this forum had their way) we would be allowed for dangerous criminal acts in prison:

Increase sentences-Nope
Take away good time/parole-Nope
Isolation-Nope
Give them a stern talking to with a strongly worded letter to follow-Nope
The loaf-Nope
A cookie-Acceptable

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Jan 4, 2014 4:14:15 PM

Bill,

I would disagree that the loaf should be a day to day dietary standard. Bored and unhappy inmates are violent inmates. Food was one of the causes of the Attica riots (that said, you could fly sirloin in daily and they would complain that it is not prime rib).

In most places, the loaf is used for people who are already in disciplinary housing and continue to misbehave. That is the proper use for it, even if Piper Kermin disagrees.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Jan 4, 2014 4:23:57 PM

MREs aren't used as a punishment, so I wouldn't think issues of whether it is Cruel and Unusual Punishment come into play. There's also just a question of capability. If there's something better than MREs, I don't think MREs are preferred.

Posted by: Erik M | Jan 4, 2014 4:28:29 PM

An example of how pro-inmate the system is and how ridiculous the food rules are. When I worked in a max, the kitchen inmates threatened to "strike", so they locked down the facility. Civilian personnel had to make sandwiches to feed the inmates. Because of lawsuits, it was not allowable to give inmates sandwiches with the "crust" ends. We threw out hundreds of sandwiches worth of bread.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Jan 4, 2014 4:28:50 PM

"if people on this forum had their way"

TQ, what in blazes are you talking about? You, Bill, Adamkis, SC and federalist between you author the majority of comments on SL&P threads. Bill alone probably accounts for a third of them.

Also, @ Bill: go look at the link that ? gave you - "Mediterranean chicken," etc., doesn't really sound like "felons get to eat better than soldiers" if the felons are eating nutraloaf.

@Doug: Please right justify graphics - especially this one as doing so would have the loaf pointing at the text, which is graphic design 101. Either way, it'd be nice not to hunt every time to figure out where your comments stop and the quoted text starts.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Jan 4, 2014 4:31:46 PM

Erik M --

"MREs aren't used as a punishment, so I wouldn't think issues of whether it is Cruel and Unusual Punishment come into play."

When, in the case of Inmate Epicures v. Loaf, the Loaf is ahead 22-0, the issue, in any realistic way of thinking, is no longer "in play."

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jan 4, 2014 6:09:30 PM

It could have been 22-1 if the food company's insurer didn't want to have to defend against an inmates 14 pound loss in 19 days plus an anal fissure resulting from consuming the loaf.

http://media.jsonline.com/documents/nutriloafruling.pdf

http://www.jsonline.com/news/milwaukee/sheriffs-office-sour-on-jail-loaf-settlement-g48ci6f-186878982.html

Posted by: Z | Jan 4, 2014 6:21:03 PM

Z --

And I "could have" played in the NBA if I'd been seven feet tall. But if I WERE playing, and losing 22-0 -- or 22-1 if you like -- I'd just have to think that the other team was a hell of a lot better.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jan 4, 2014 6:52:50 PM

Z- And if we had tort reform, say loser pays all legal bills, then it would be equally likely that there would not have been a lawsuit.

Grits-There is not anything close to a majority of posters here being conservative. That a few conservatives are vocal is irrelevant. One thing is a statistical certainty though, you are the biggest fibber on the board.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Jan 4, 2014 7:03:29 PM

Bill's passive-aggressive reasoning is alive and well.
No one ever argued that prisoners must constitutionally or as a matter of policy eat better than US troops.

Bill is the first person to bring up such a topic he says" "These people -- criminals, every one -- are eating better than the GI's who lived off C-rations while fighting for the country. But still they complain.

Despite the fact Erica M saying nothing about prisoners eating better than soldiers, let alone advocating such a position, Bill perpetuates his red herring and states: "Erik M --

1. Do you view the loaf as being less desirable than C-rations? If so, on what basis? If not, why should prisoners be fed better than soldiers fighting for the country?"

Then I at no time suggest that prisoners should eat better than soldiers but do point out MRE's are better than the loaf: "C-rations were for short term use--not to exceed 3 days. C-rations were phased out in 1958. Today the military uses MRE's. MRE's are to be used for a maximum of 21 days. In the USAF MRE's have been referred to as "Meals, Rarely Edible." To maintain morale, the US military tries to get hot food to the troops whenever possible. Is use of the loaf limited to 21 days? Here is a link to the 2013 MRE menu: http://www.mreinfo.com/us/mre/menus-xxxiii-2013.html
I think I rather eat MRE's than the loaf."
In reply, Bill says: "If our troops can eat C-rations, or MRE's or whatever they're called now, our prisoners can. Period. The notion that, as matter of policy or of constitutional law, felons get to eat better than soldiers is preposterous to the point of being mind-blowing. Only on a defense lawyer-oriented blog, where most of the people comment anonymously, would such an idea even be floated."
One should notice at this point, Bill is the only named or unnamed person floating the idea that prisoners get to eat better than soldiers.
Lets not even start to dissect the validity of his 22-0 argument. Suffice to say that the Supreme Court at least since the demise of C-rations in 1958 has shown that argument is nonsense. Just look at Apprendi. Prior to Apprendi the record was probably 22,000-0 in favor of the government. Doug might know exactly how many defendants lost Apprendi issues prior to Apprendi.

Posted by: ? | Jan 4, 2014 8:57:38 PM

? --

I know what a passive-aggressive personality is. But what is passive-aggressive "reasoning?"

Well, never mind. Any reasoning at all is better than the let's-take-a-flier-because-you-never-know-when-lightening-might-strike approach you employ.

It is only such employment that permits you to go with this zinger: "Lets not even start to dissect the validity of his 22-0 argument. Suffice [it] to say that the Supreme Court at least since the demise of C-rations in 1958 has shown that argument is nonsense."

Let's unpack that. First, the argument that the Supreme Court has supposedly shown is nonsense is an argument it has never even considered -- unless, that is, the now infamous Loaf has been on the Court's plate (figuratively speaking), which it has not.

I suppose there is some alternate Whiner's Universe in which the Supreme Court has considered and condemned the now-infamous Loaf, just not this universe.

Second, you get all superior about the fact that you're LOSING 22-0, and -- again in the Whiner's Universe -- view this as the precursor to The Big High Court Victory. Now of course it's true that the Court sometimes tanks the majority view among the district courts. It did so, for example, when it upheld the Guidelines by and 8-1 vote in Mistretta, even as the decided majority of district judges had ruled against them.

But to view the lopsided, indeed unanimous, defeat of prisoner suits against the Loaf as the Harbinger of Victory is just flat out nuts.

Lest you think this to be mere passive-aggressive reasoning, whatever that turns out to mean, I'll put money on it. I'll bet $100 to your $10 that, if the SCOTUS ever takes a case about the Loaf -- a remote possibility since the inmate argument is so, uh, attenuated -- the Loaf will win and the inmate will lose.

Are we on?

P.S. Not that the real subject underneath it all is the Loaf. What's underneath it is the defendant/inmate's seemingly unstoppable propensity to blame everyone and everything else for his woes. As TarlsQtr aptly put it, "... you could fly sirloin in daily and they would complain that it is not prime rib."

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jan 4, 2014 9:57:40 PM

Eh, even the Washington Generals have won a game, so I wouldn't think too much about only 22 wins. That being said, if you had actually read my post, you would see that I don't believe it takes much for the Loaf to be an acceptable form of punishment. I also said nothing about whether it's acceptable as a form of nutrition when there is no punitive intent except to say it would probably be acceptable in circumstances similar to those when the army uses MREs (i.e., lack of readily available alternative substitutes under conditions that don't provide for time to prepare better food and with the goal of keeping it for a limited duration).

How many of those 22 "wins" failed to be in compliance with my low standards for acceptability? Otherwise, I agree with them, not disagree.

Posted by: Erik M | Jan 5, 2014 11:15:36 AM

The Warden should come into the inmate cafeteria each day at breakfast and lunch and dine on the same victuals as the inmates get. When the meatloaf is served he should hold the fork up with the meat on it and say Praise the Lard. At least on Sunday. Monday through Saturday he can say: Praise Krisco.

Posted by: Liberty1st | Jan 6, 2014 12:48:24 PM

@ Liberty1st-In NY, at least, the Superintendent does that at least once per week. It is also commonly eaten by the officers at the risk of a $250 fine. The "prison food" jokes are mainly a myth. Even those inmates with the means to eat completely on their commissary buys and packages sent from home go to mess hall.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Jan 6, 2014 3:26:21 PM

"... criminals, every one -- are eating better than the GI's who lived off C-rations while fighting for the country. But still they complain."

Please tell me, how could any draft evading pansy-ass ever have the faintest idea of what real fighting Americans eat in the field let alone ever having tasted it. Posers never cease to amaze.

Posted by: frank response | Jan 6, 2014 7:50:23 PM

Frank response,

Then why no outrage about people commenting on what inmates eat?

Your absurd position is the equivalent of saying that a male OBGYN should not be able to practice (heck, or even comment on) childbirth because they are "posers" who have never "tasted" the pain.

I have never been in a serious auto accident but can comment with great certainty that I do not want to be in one.

Thanks for such a great example of flaccid thinking.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Jan 7, 2014 10:22:08 AM

I doubt that the majority of posters are many "draft evaders." The draft ended in 1972, meaning that anybody who was eligible for the draft before it ended would be about 60. Additionally females over 60 were not eligible for the draft.

Assuming that the majority of folks who are post are lawyers (and thus most likely over 25), that still gives you a large group of people between 25-60 who never had a draft to evade. Likewise, any women over 60 never had a draft to evade.

Given a reasonable assumptions about life expectancy (fewer in their 80s than in their 70s and in their 60s), I would be shocked if over 20% of the people who read and post were draft eligible during the Viet Nam era. I would also expect that some served, including some that volunteered (both during and after the Viet Nam era), and that some simply had a low draft number. All in all, I would be shocked if more than 3-4% of regular readers would qualify as draft evaders. In short, the ad hominem attack on the people commenting on this article shows a failure to carefully consider the facts.

Posted by: tmm | Jan 7, 2014 6:13:20 PM

frank response --

"Please tell me, how could any draft evading pansy-ass ever have the faintest idea of what real fighting Americans eat in the field let alone ever having tasted it."

Ummmmmm, by reading?

P.S. Isn't "pansy-ass" a gay slur?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jan 8, 2014 6:24:08 AM

Notice how none of the usual suspects complain about "frank response" . . . .

when I go all ad hominem, e.g., "wise [sic] Latina"---I back it up with argument.

Posted by: federalist | Jan 9, 2014 12:57:03 AM

They shouldn't misbehave if they don't want the loaf.

Posted by: Jessica | Jan 10, 2014 10:19:16 AM

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