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June 29, 2009

New York Times editorial about feeding prisoners

This morning's New York Times has this notable editorial, headlined "Two Meals and Not Always Square."  Here are excerpts:

With budgets tight, states and local governments have been looking at prisons — and prison food — as a place to save money.  Three days a week, Georgia now serves inmates only two meals. And across the country, there have been increasing reports of substandard food.  This is inhumane.  Adequate meals should be a nonnegotiable part of a civilized penal system.  It is also bad policy.  Researchers have found a connection between poor food quality and discipline problems and violence.

Georgia has nevertheless decided to save on staff costs by serving just two meals on Friday, as it already did on Saturday and Sunday.  The state says it gives prisoners the same number of calories on days when one meal is skipped.  Even if it does — and some prisoners’ advocates are skeptical — it can be oppressive to go so long without eating.

In Alabama earlier this year, a federal judge ordered the Morgan County sheriff locked up in his own jail for contempt for failing to adequately feed his inmates.  Alabama allows sheriffs to keep food money they do not spend, and the sheriff reportedly pocketed more than $200,000 over three years.

Prisoners’ rights advocates say they are receiving an increasing number of complaints from inmates nationwide who report being served spoiled or inedible food or inadequate portions....

If states and localities want to save money on corrections, they should reduce their prison and jail populations.  The United States, which has less than 5 percent of the world’s population, has almost one-quarter of its prisoners.  Many are in for nonviolent crimes that could be punished in more constructive, and less costly, ways.  If governments decide to put inmates behind bars, they have to give them adequate food — which means no less than three healthy meals a day.

June 29, 2009 at 06:15 AM | Permalink


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"Alabama allows sheriffs to keep food money they do not spend, and the sheriff reportedly pocketed more than $200,000 over three years."

What does "to keep" mean? As salary or for other uses at the jail?

Posted by: . | Jun 29, 2009 9:14:49 AM

personal income, according to reports.

Posted by: Talitha | Jun 29, 2009 12:18:38 PM

what was going on in Alabama is not unique--a sheriff often gets a cut of jail expenses or serving warrants. It's a practice that should be abolished.

Posted by: federalist | Jun 29, 2009 2:27:33 PM

Federalist, Allowing the sheriffs to keep the money is anti-crime and pro-law enforcement. Taking the money away is simply an example of anti-victim bias.

Posted by: S.cotus | Jun 29, 2009 3:39:00 PM

s.cotus, your post is nonsensical

Posted by: federalist | Jun 29, 2009 5:56:53 PM

The bleeding hearts are bleating again. Bread and water I say. It was good enough in Blackstone's time (and, as I recall, good enough for the future Count of Monte Cristo), and I'm sure the vittles would pass muster with the originalists, Scalia and Thomas. O.k., I'll throw the dogs a bone: I'm willling to substitute gruel; but absolutely no seconds.

Posted by: anon | Jun 29, 2009 8:54:54 PM

Two meals a day is not adequate and for some people like diabetics or those with certain medical problems this may damage their health and even lead to death. It is inexcusable in a civilized country to give only two meals a day. Where are the lawyers to file class actions suits? Where is the medical associations and nutrition associations? This must be challenged.

Posted by: Dr Linda Shelton | Jun 29, 2009 9:00:48 PM

Dr. S: Isn't obesity the biggest nutritional problem in prison, especially in the South?

Aren't the servings of three meals a form of extra-judicial punishment, to speed the day when the prisoner will die of a heart attack and suffer other consequences of obesity?

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jun 30, 2009 4:33:23 AM

In the meantime, other countries are further researching preliminary findings that demonstrate reduction of violent, criminal and anti-social behavior when the nutritional content of prisoners' food is increased. Yes, believe it or not, folks who are fed adequate nutrition (which is not the same as adequate calories) are less likely to engage in criminal behavior.

Posted by: Rika | Jun 30, 2009 5:30:00 PM

Rika: This is alternative medicine exaggeration. How about some data for us to evaluate for ourselves if food lowers crime? Could become a new remedy, a new sentencing guideline, making criminals eat.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jun 30, 2009 10:49:08 PM

What would motivate you to call the info "alternative medicine exaggeration" if you have no knowledge of the research? Interesting.

When one has basic knowledge of the brain's physical structure--and its medically confirmed need for certain nutrients--it's easy to understand that what someone eats will impact behavior. This isn't woo-woo science. It's fact acknowledged by the medical community. Stating otherwise is like saying you can build a sturdy house with nothing but sticks and animal hides. Sure you'll get something resembling a structure, but no one in their right mind would expect it to match a home made of higher quality materials.

Will nutrition fix everything? Of course not. But dismissing it out of hand is foolhardy.



Posted by: Rika | Jul 1, 2009 3:15:36 PM

As in the Twinkie Defense?

Yes, I dismiss the link. Malnourished people are weak, and have no desire to attack others except to get their food. The biggest nutrition problem in the US prisons is excess nutrition, i.e. obesity and its consequences.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jul 1, 2009 7:16:23 PM

If you equate quantity of food with nutritional content of food, then I can understand your reluctance to examine the issue.

Posted by: Rika | Jul 1, 2009 9:05:48 PM

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