Today is a good day for the 500 prisoners at the Ramsey County correctional facility in St. Paul, Mn. It’s egg day. Inmates are lining up in the mess hall for breakfast, which features two boiled eggs as well as porridge, cold toast, coffee, orange juice and a carton of milk. The soaring national prison and jail population – which has hit a record 2.2 million and is the highest per capita in the world, putting a huge strain on state and federal budgets, reports The Guardian. Wardens and prison managers are under intense pressure to cut costs across the board, including the food provided to inmates, some of whom are fed for less than $1.20 a day.
In many U.S. prisons, inmates only rarely receive eggs, dairy or meat, and fresh fruit and vegetables are sometimes banned altogether. Instead nutritionists are called in to figure out ways of achieving states’ minimum calorie counts and vitamin and nutrient intakes via tubs of margarine and fortified mineral powders and supplements. Many prisons’ food service has been outsourced to private companies offering big cost savings and making big profits. One of the biggest, Philadelphia-based Aramark, serves up 380 million meals a year as the sole food provider to more than 600 prisons and other correctional institutions despite repeated fines over scandals including serving food tainted by maggots and rats. Minnesota has brought its food service provision back in-house after years of outsourcing and has committed to providing real food for inmates even if it costs more money. “We don’t want to fill a bowl with a substance that might meet the calorie requirement and vitamins and minerals [the state requires], but has no appeal,” said state corrections commissioner Tom Roy. “Being in prison is punishment enough, they don’t have to be tortured by bad food.”