I recently celebrated the third anniversary of the day I walked out of prison. I spent four years at the Eastern Women’s Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center in Vandalia, Missouri, committing my first non-violent marijuana offense, and my time in prison opened my eyes to the realities of the American prison system.
I have to admit that before I got involved in the criminal justice system, I thought about crime, prisons, and people in prisons differently. I grew up in a conservative family who had a “tough on crime” attitude and had no problem with corporal punishment or the death penalty.
I’ve been led by influences in my life — everyone from my parents to the media — to believe that those who are in jail should be there. At the same time, I often hear complaints that it costs upwards of $50,000 a year to incarcerate just one person.
The US population is only 5% of the world’s population, but we have 25% of the world’s prison population. With more than 2 million people behind bars across the country, our policies of mass incarceration are costly to American taxpayers.
So why on earth does it cost so much to house a prisoner? Also, why do they get free stuff like: a roof over their heads, three meals a day, TV to watch, and a gym to work out? The life of an inmate is a leisurely life, right? There are no bills to pay, no responsibilities to take care of, everything in life is provided.
Yes, I believed a lot of these things before I got locked up, but now I know the truth. People in prison are people too. Therefore, they still have their rights as human beings.
Which leads to today’s blog topic: Why do prisoners get free food?
This blog post will cover the following topics:
- The State’s Responsibility When Imprisoning Someone
- What is prison food like, and how are prisoners fed?
The State’s Responsibility When Imprisoning Someone
When the state or federal government decides that a person needs to be incarcerated because they pose a threat to society, they assume responsibility for that person’s care. Once a person is incarcerated, there is no way they can make enough money to support themselves, and the taxpayer has to foot the bill.
Free food for prisoners because they can’t afford other food. Even though prisoners may have done something illegal, they are still human and they have certain rights.
Things that are considered cruel and unusual, such as starvation, are not allowed in institutions such as prisons or jails, as they can harm the health and welfare of offenders.
The state is responsible for the welfare of prisoners throughout their imprisonment, but they only provide the absolute minimum. They provide thin mattresses to sleep on on steel or concrete platforms, basic hygiene items, a limited amount of national clothing, and “food” that you’ll never come across.
What is prison food like, and how are prisoners fed?
It’s no secret that prison food is bad, but it’s hard to explain just how bad it really is. Instead of taking advantage of the prison’s gardening program and the vast amount of land that can be used for gardening and farming and supplying fresh food to the camps, the prison contracts with various suppliers to buy large quantities of packaged, processed foods that are high in carbohydrates and sodium.
It has no taste and is considered very unhealthy. There has been a long-running rumor in prisons that food labels in prisons say “not for human consumption.” I work in food service warehouses and prisons and have never seen this label. Still, that doesn’t mean the rumors aren’t true.
According to regulations, the quality of food provided by prisons must meet certain standards in order to ensure food safety. Obviously the food was not top notch for money reasons and it was very tasty.
Every tray needs to have a certain amount of each food group to meet health standards, but most meats have a certain amount of filler mixed in to take it a step further.
How prisoners eat depends on the security level of the facility and whether the prisoner is in the general population or in isolation. For prisoners held under maximum security or isolation conditions, meals are prepared in the kitchen and delivered to the cells.
In prisons with more freedom of movement, inmates go to the cafeteria, or “canteen,” where they line up to receive their meal trays. The inmates then find an empty table to eat. When they were done, they placed the empty plates in the window of the scullery, where the plates were washed and reused for the next meal.
It’s basically a large cafeteria with dozens of workers feeding hundreds of people.
If you’re an ex-prisoner, have you ever seen the mythical “not for human consumption” food label? Let us know in the comments below.
Sources: Inmate interviews at WERDCC in Vandalia, MO