20 September 2010

Prisoners and Food... and punishment

I have to admit, I am having very mixed feelings.

Yesterday, my guy and I went to our local farmers' market, where I picked up a throwaway magazine on local foods. Leafing through it, I found an article that caught my eye: "On the Line: Correctional Dining."

Before I got there, I read the editorial page. There had apparently been an article a few months ago which caused quite a stir. The editor pointed out the article to which I alluded above, and said that he "expect(s) much controversy surrounding it." I thought to myself, "Yes, from all of those human rights groups, I am sure, to protect the poor prisoners."

Then, I read the article.

I have to say, I am not sure what to think. Let me explain: I never realized that the prison system uses food as punishment. Apparently, there are three levels of punishment. In brief: if a prisoner is cited for a "level I infraction," (s)he may lose visitation rights. A tier II infraction may get them to solitary confinement. Tier III, however, may get the prisoner the joy of eating "the loaf."

Now, nowhere in the article do they state what the said loaf actually contains. However, apparently the prisoner has to have medical clearance to "go on the loaf" for all of the digestive disarray it causes. It is served simply, with water and boiled cabbage "to aid digestion." Of course, with the internet at my fingertips, I had to see if I could find out what is in this mystery concoction. The best I could do, was this recipe and report from NPR. I have to say, there has to be more to it, as this really sounds not all that bad. I mean, it doesn't sound gourmet, by any stretch, but not too horrid, either.

My initial thought was, "What the hell do I care what they eat--they are PRISONERS, after all. Let them eat bread and water for all I care." That being said, here is my quandary: Another (quiet, minuscule) portion of the original article mentioned that the rates of obesity, diabetes and hypertension are on the rise in prisons.

Damn, it makes sense. They are not getting nutritionally sounds meals, so diet-based diseases are rearing their ugly heads. (There are apparently quite a few prisons that try to cut costs by only serving breakfast and dinner Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. This forces inmates to fend for themselves--often in the form of ramen noodles and freeze-dried foods from care packages. beef jerky, anyone? hmmmm, salt, fat, sugar, and more salt) This pulls more of our tax dollars to treat these people. Their diets don't change, and it's a vicious cycle. In fact, the article goes so far as to state that if a prisoner cites that they have religious requirements for food (halal, kosher, or vegetarian, for instance), they are immediately under suspicion... for, although those meals are not significantly more nutritious, they are minutely more expensive to manufacture.

If we went for prevention instead of treatment, we would inevitably spend a lot less. Well, this, of course, works for health care all around. Unfortunately, when you can get a taco at Taco Bell for 89 cents, why should you shell out four bucks for a dozen farm-fresh eggs... or $2.50 for a bunch of kale, for that matter, which you will have to then (oh, horror!!) cook!!

The United States public has, sadly, been lulled into a sense of instant gratification, sugar rush and fat/ carb coma included. But I digress...

Wouldn't it make more sense to have these prisoners spend some of their time tilling soil and producing their own food? That way, they would get more nutritious fare, but at the expense of work hours, not tax dollars. I mean, the inmates that behave are allowed to work in the kitchen. They just have to account for any utensils or can lids that they use or discard. The same could be done for garden/ farm work. Prisoners take classes, attend workshops... this would be just another offering.

I know, I am a dreamer...

No comments: