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When you hear the words “prison food” you probably conjure up something less than
appetizing in your mind.
The truth about prison food probably isn't too far from what you are imagining.
We are going to take a look at the types of food inmates receive and if it even reaches
basic health standards.
Although being put in prison is a punishment for crimes committed, the food being served
to inmates in the United States is also a crime.
Prisons, and the private companies that provide the meals to them, have been sued numerous
times for not meeting basic health requirements.
So what is it like eating prison food every day?
Food and routine vary from prison to prison, but let's follow a prisoner as he makes
his way through the culinary adventure that is a prison meal.
The time is 4:30 A.M.
The prisoner wakes up for breakfast.
Wakeup time and breakfast is different in different institutions.
It can be as early as 4:30 or as late as 10:30 A.M.
Once in a prison the routine around meal times normally remains constant.
After breakfast our prisoner is not fed a meal again until early to late evening.
In some prisons the incarcerated only get two meals a day, with a light snack in between.
The prisoner wakes up to unsweetened grits, a slice of bread, and less than half an egg.
Just like every other day, it is not enough food to satisfy his grumbling stomach.
In fact, for most prisoners, the meals are well below their recommended caloric intake
Other days breakfast for the prisoners consists of a peanut butter bar, biscuit, hard-boiled
egg, and fruit.
Although fruit is a rarity, and fresh fruit that hasn't started to mold yet is even
more rare.
No matter how you look at it, our prisoner is going to be hungry long before another
meal is served.
If the prison serves lunch the prisoner can look forward to a bologna sandwich, which
is made of mystery meat and not deli style bologna.
The alternative to the bologna sandwich could be two sandwiches with a dab of peanut butter.
It's hard for the prisoner to decide which is better.
The mystery meat could make him sick, but the dab of peanut butter is never satisfying…
even if there are two.
With the sandwich comes a small bag of corn chips.
The prisoner eats slowly to try and make the food last.
But there just isn't enough to make it last for very long.
He often rips open the bag of chips and licks the crumbs out of the inside for a little
more sustenance.
It has been a long time since the prisoner has received any milk.
The prison ran out a long time ago and hasn't gotten another shipment yet.
This happens all too often, and milk becomes a delicacy rather than a staple.
Sometimes the prisoner is served tea that clearly does not have the right proportion
of water to tea mix.
It is really watered down tea.
If the prisoner is lucky he can get a water downed flat soda as well.
At the end of the day our prisoner finally gets a slightly larger meal for dinner.
However, larger doesn't mean better.
In fact, oftentimes it is the dinner menu that provides the most risk for inmates.
The menu rotates, but food often runs out or is not available, so it is possible the
same thing is served for dinner multiple nights in a row.
An average dinner can consist of chicken livers with a half scoop of veggies.
Another dinner could be mystery meat with coleslaw.
For special occasions our prisoner gets two cold hot dogs with onions and beans.
Sometimes the bread that comes with dinner is moldy, sometimes it's not.
There is no way to tell what the quality of the food is until it is slapped onto the prisoner's
What if the prisoner wants to supplement, or kill the taste, with some salt and pepper?
It's not available in the prison cafeteria, instead, prisoners have to purchase these
supplements from the prison commercary.
The prices for food and condiments have been jacked up by the prison system, and only a
very few are lucky enough to have money to purchase such items.
So, the food in the commissary that is decent is severely overpriced, and the food served
in the cafeteria is what was cheapest to buy for that time of year.
Sometimes the prisoner wonders if the meals just come from the garbage.
Unfortunately that is not too far from the truth.
There have been cases of food worker employees being fired after serving food from the trash
to inmates.
In one case an employee threw away the leftover food before all of the prisoners were fed.
When the food worker noticed their mistake, they took the food out of the trash and reheated
it in the oven.
The employee then served it to the hungry inmates.
In the food worker's defences, they stated that they washed the food from the garbage
before cooking and serving it to the inmates.
How nice of them.
Some nights prisoners are served creamed chipped beef.
This has been designated as “shit on a shingle” by inmates.
The name comes from the taste and consistency of the creamed chipped beef.
On nights where this dish is served the prisoners tend to opt out of dinner and just wait until
Another problem that plagues inmates is unreliable kitchen appliances.
There have been a number of reports that prisoners have gone up to three months without hot food
due to broken ovens and pressure cookers.
Workers claim that most of the time the ovens and skillets are inoperable anyways, so they
do the best with what they have.
During these times prisoners can look forward to eating cold pasta or room temperature cheese
Not grilled cheese, just a slice of cheese between two pieces of bread.
Even when everything is working, and the pantry is fully stocked, prisoners sometimes receive
food past its due date, or that has already begun to rot.
Over the past few years reports by human rights organizations have brought to light that inmates
have been served rotten chicken tacos, rancid beef, and cake that has had bites taken out
of it by rodents.
Moldy bread is more common than you would think, and some inmates have been told to
just eat around the moldy parts.
Apparently the Eighth Amendment that outlawed cruel and unusual punishment does not apply
to inmates' food.
So why is prison food so bad?
We understand that prisoners may not be the nicest people, but should we be feeding them
food that will literally make them sick or poison them?
The Eighth Amendment probably does forbid that right?
So how did we get here in our modern and civilized world?
It all started with the privatization of prison food.
Many prisons now outsource their food services to private companies.
These companies are for-profit so they are trying to make money.
Normally situations where for-profit companies have a captive consumer base never ends well
for the consumer.
The mission of for-profit companies is to make money using whatever means possible,
even if it is at the expense of their consumers.
You can see where this might go bad for prisoners.
In order to make money, the companies that provide food for prisons on average spend
$1.13 to $1.25 per prisoner per day.
Imagine only having $1.25 to spend on food each day.
I don't know about you, but that wouldn't even last me through breakfast.
And the companies aren't the only ones benefiting from spending miniscule amounts of money on
food for prisoners.
Law enforcement officials can also benefit greatly.
For instance take Morgan County Alabama Sheriff Greg Bartlett.
Under the current system, Alabama sheriffs are given a budget $1.75 to feed a prisoner
for a day.
If the sheriff can reduce the cost to below $1.75 they get to keep the money that's
left over.
Think about that.
If an Alabama sheriff can cut costs of prisoners' meals, they get to keep the leftover money.
That is not a very good incentive program to keep the prisoners fed well.
On January 8, 2009 Sheriff Greg Bartlett was convicted and sentenced to prison after he
admitted to pocketing over $200,000 allocated for meals for inmates in the county jail.
That is $200,000 that came from short changing prisoners on food.
The companies that provide prisons with food have been cited by the CDC and other watchdog
organizations for gross misconduct.
Health code violations in prisons run rampant.
Prisoners have found rodent feces in their food, and through random inspections of just
two jails there were 15 "maggot-related incidents," that forced 30 sick inmates to be quarantined.
The meals are not the only problem with the privately run prison food companies.
The employees hired by these for-profit companies are causing problems as well.
Employees have been caught humping inmates, smuggling drugs in cell phones, and one former
Michigan employee is facing charges for putting out a hit on a prisoner.
Apparently with bad prison food comes bad employees as well.
All of the corner cutting and misconduct has led to health and safety problems in U.S.
When prisoners enter the system they can lose as many as 20 pounds in the first few weeks
due to lack of calories.
In 2008 over 270 prisoners in Florida's Santa Rosa Correctional Institution became
sick after eating chili.
The meat was not kept at the correct storage temperature and had gone bad.
According to the CDC inmates are 6.4 times more likely to suffer from food related illnesses
than the general population.
Even if you believe that prisoners don't deserve fresh food, it is hard to argue that
prisons should actively take part in making them sick through spoiled food.
Also, when inmates become sick, more money has to be pumped into the system to make them
So in the long run it would be beneficial to make sure all basic health code standards
are met.
Prisoners are constantly looking for ways to escape the food and other inadequacies
of the prison system.
What better way to forget about the gross meals and terrible conditions than drinking
a little alcohol?
Alcohol is obviously illegal in prisons, but inmates make their own alcoholic beverage
called pruno.
It is a wine made by fermenting cafeteria supplies such as fruit, sugar, and ketchup.
Sure it tastes awful, but it will get you inebriated and that is the goal if you have
to deal with awful food every day.
Unfortunately, this drink can lead to alcohol poisoning and has other negative side effects,
but most prisoners feel it is worth the risk.
Another downside to the terrible food in the prison system is safety risks.
Prison food has been known to cause riots and fights.
The ACLU found a connection between privately run prison food systems and increased safety
risks associated with those prisons.
It seems that when skimping on food there are more than just health risks to worry about.
In a Kentucky prison unreasonably small portion sizes caused a riot in 2009 that left eight
guards and eight prisoners injured.
These situations can be avoided by providing food that meets basic quality and quantity
It is no surprise that prisoners take the food they eat seriously.
When incarcerated prisoners lose all their rights, belongings, and contact with the outside
They are at the mercy of prison guards and wardens.
Food is the one thing that they still have that can bring them some sort of happiness.
When food is given in smaller and smaller quantities, or what is being served is full
of rodent droppings this upsets prisoners, and rightfully so.
Safety in prisons could be better just by making sure that the food being served is
not spoiled, and the portions are of adequate size.
It seems like the choice between the safety of the people who work in prisons and spending
a little more on food would be an easy one to make.
Unfortunately that is not what we see at the moment in U.S. prisons.
Then again people in prisons are there because they have done terrible things right?
Shouldn't they be punished in every way?
Something we should keep in mind is that not everyone in prison is there for the same reason.
There are kids who have made a bad decision, but are still just kids.
There are people who were arrested for selling marijuana, which is now legal in many states.
Should they be starving and eating rotten food?
Basic human rights should be maintained no matter what.
Also, what about people who are in jail awaiting trial?
These people may not be guilty of any crime, yet they're subjected to the tainted food
of for-profit corporations while they wait to be proven innocent.
It would seem that if we treat everyone as humans, and meet basic food safety standards,
everyone would be better off for it.
Maybe it is time to take the food in our prisons out of the hands of greedy corporations that
serve literal garbage.
If we increase food quality in our prisons, health and safety will increase as well.
It's a win win.
If you want to learn more about the prison system check out our video Jail vs Prison
- What's ACTUALLY The Difference?
Or maybe you want to know more about notorious prisoners, so watch What Did Alcatraz's Most
Dangerous Prisoners Do?
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What Do Prisoners Actually Eat?

3 Folder Collection
Summer published on July 30, 2020
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