Prisoners to eat less
Allegedly seeking to save money, several states are cutting prison diets. Of course, this is just partisan politics, as Republican administrations are trying to appeal to the frugal wing of their party-- in a "zero sum game", social programs have to be cut to provide adequate funding for mini-nukes.
Actually, this is more likely a left-lib Trojan Horse slipping under the radar, and is probably due to humanitarian concerns for the prisoners' health. Well documented animal research, as well as some anecdotal information from inadvertent experiments such as Dachau, reveal that mammals live longer and are healthier when maintained in a state of semi-starvation.
States Putting Inmates on Diets to Trim Budgets
By FOX BUTTERFIELD
Published: September 30, 2003
esperate to cut budget deficits, officials in several states have begun reducing the amount or quality of food served to prison inmates, an issue that has long been a sensitive one for inmates and has often provoked protests.
These new food plans involve either reducing the number of calories provided each day or eliminating a meal on weekends and holidays by serving two meals instead of three.
So far, officials in the states that have cut prisoners' food say inmates have not complained, and they insist that the nutritional value of the meals being served still meets national standards. Among these states are Arizona, Iowa, Minnesota, North Carolina, Texas and Virginia; other states, including Massachusetts, are beginning to experiment with the reduced diets in individual prisons.
Experts on prisons say, however, that food is only a very small part of the overall cost of running a prison system — about 80 percent of prison budgets go for guards' salaries — so that any saving achieved by reducing inmates' food will be minimal and comes at a risk.
"This kind of stuff never gets you very much money," said Michael Jacobson, a professor of criminology at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan and a former commissioner of corrections for New York City. "It is always incredibly marginal, and it shows a lack of political will to take on the larger issues, like releasing some nonviolent offenders to get real savings."
Moreover, some advocates for prisoners and prisoners' families say the new reduced diets are causing health problems.
Joan Covici, president of the Dallas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said she received hundreds of letters a month complaining about the new prison diet in Texas, where the Department of Criminal Justice says the number of calories a day fed to the 148,000 inmates has been reduced to 2,500 from 2,800.
Guidelines of the federal Department of Agriculture recommend a minimum of 2,800 calories a day for active men and 2,200 for sedentary men. Some inmates in Texas prisons work outside on farms or other labor-intensive projects, while others are confined to their cells, prison officials say.
Ms. Covici said she had received a letter from the mother of a 20-year-old inmate who is 6 foot 4 and normally weighs about 190 pounds; his weight, she said, has dropped to 168 pounds with the reduced diet, and he is still losing weight.
Ms. Covici, who asked that the inmate be identified by only his first name, Chris, said his mother believed that his sharp drop in weight since the diet was introduced in May had resulted in "deteriorated mental health" and brought about an episode of mania.
In a letter to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, his mother wrote, "I would think that the incremental cost of a few hundred extra calories would be less expensive than the extra health care cost from poor health."
Larry Todd, a spokesman for the Department of Criminal Justice, said, "We have not reduced the amount of food, only the calories, and we are still serving nutritious meals that follow the food pyramid recommended by the Department of Agriculture."
The reduction in daily calories was a result of a bill passed by the Texas Legislature that required the Department of Criminal Justice to reduce its budget by 5 percent, or $230 million, this year, with about $6 million of that coming from reduced spending on food, Mr. Todd said.
State Representative Ray Allen, a Republican who is chairman of the House Corrections Committee, said, "It was not our first choice to cut their food, but we had a $9.9 billion shortfall."
"Since we can't cut a single corrections officer, and their salaries are 80 percent of prison costs, there isn't much else left to cut," Mr. Allen said.
In practice, some of the saving is coming from more careful attention to standardizing portions, said Janie Thomas, director for laundry, food service and supply for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
"We emphasize portion control; it is a good cost control," Ms. Thomas said. "Where in the past an inmate might have been served two biscuits, now he gets one."
As another example, Ms. Thomas said prisons that in past years might have served a chicken patty with macaroni and cheese have now cut out the macaroni and cheese. Cheaper cuts of meat have also been substituted for better grades.
In other cases, powdered milk has been substituted for whole milk and a juicelike drink for real juice.
Representative Allen said he was not worried about prisoner protests over the new policy. "Inmate protests are not well received in Texas," he said. "If inmates want to act out violently about their food, we have other places to put them."
North Carolina has followed a plan similar to Texas', reducing the number of calories served to inmates to 2,700 a day from 3,300, said Keith Acree, a spokesman for the state's Department of Corrections. This has enabled the state to cut the amount spent on feeding an inmate to $709 a year from $943 in 1998.
In Virginia, the prison system in January went to a brunch plan on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays, eliminating breakfast and serving only two meals a day. "It was our own idea," said Michael Leininger, a spokesman for the Virginia Department of Corrections. "There was so much waste on weekends, because the inmates didn't like getting up early and were skipping breakfast."
Cleveland Davis, an inmate at Deerfield Correctional Facility in Virginia, confirmed that he and many other inmates did skip breakfast on weekends, because it was served at 4:30 a.m. and they preferred to sleep in.
The real problem, Mr. Davis said, is the lack of fresh vegetables and fruit and a reliance on cheaper processed meats and starches.
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