Budget-starved states now may starve their inmates, relatively speaking. Several states have cut the amount or quality of food served behind bars, the New York Times reports. They are either reducing the number of calories each day or eliminating a meal on weekends and holidays by serving two meals instead of three.
States say the meals’ nutritional value meets national standards. Among these states involved are Arizona, Iowa, Minnesota, North Carolina, Texas and Virginia; other states, including Massachusetts, are experimenting with reduced diets in individual prisons.
Experts say food is such a small part of prison system costs that savings will be minimal and come at a risk. “This kind of stuff never gets you very much money,” said Michael Jacobson of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan and an ex-New York City corrections commissioner. Joan Covici of the American Civil Liberties Union in Dallas said she gets hundreds of letters a month complaining about the new prison diet in Texas, where number of calories a day fed to the 148,000 inmates has been reduced to 2,500 from 2,800. A state spokesman 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 Texas Legislature reqired a $230 million cut in prison costs this year. State Representative Ray Allen, a Republican heads 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.”
As examples of meal cuts: inmates might get one biscuit instead of two, and a chicken patty might be served without macaroni and cheese. Cheaper cuts of meat have also been substituted for better grades. In some cases, powdered milk has been substituted for whole milk and a juicelike drink for real juice.
North Carolina has followed a plan similar to Texas’, cutting the amount spent on feeding an inmate to $709 a year from $943 in 1998.