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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.
Opening Arguments

Three squares

Should jail inmates be able to eat better than most of us on the outside?

Time in jail comes with a guarantee: three square meals a day.

But those meals can't be just anything.

State rules require inmate meals to meet specific requirements. At least one meal each day has to be hot. And breakfast, lunch and dinner have to add up to a certain calorie count, with recommended amounts of grains and vegetables.

In the past two years, those recommendations have changed, adding whole grains to the list and increasing the amount of vegetables inmates are required to eat every day. School lunches have made similar shifts.

Those updates have come with a higher price tag, since whole grains and produce cost more.

You remember O. Henry's "The Cop and the Anthem" about the bum who kept trying to get arrested so he'll have a warm place to stay in the winter. (Text here.) Nowadays, we hear stories about people committing crimes so they can get costly prescriptions in jail. I don't know that anybody's tried to get in for the good grub, but anything's possible.

It's a debate-worthy topic how much we should do for those we incarcerate. Certainly we don't want to abuse them -- we can take away their freedom but still owe them their dignity. And there is a basic level of need we need to meet. But beyond that basic level, what should we give them? Easier access to a college education than many Americans? Medical care out of many people's price range? Better nutrition than we have? More cable channels than we can get?

As a general rule, I'd say we can stick closer to the basics for those in jail, since their confinement is shorter-term. No need to temporarily enrich their lives. A few weeks or months of baloney sandwiches ain't gonna kill them. We should do more for those in prison since we are depriving them of their freedom for a longer time.


Harl Delos
Wed, 08/22/2012 - 2:33pm

A significant number of people behind bars have committed alcohol-related offenses, and in many cases, the alcohol was self treatment for depression and other mental health problems. Teaching those people to eat well would probably save money in the long run.

It might save money in the short run as well.  Frozen foods are 20% more expensive than fresh.  Whole-grain pasta with a fresh sauce, and fresh snap beans is awfully cheap.  If the prisoners end up eating a healthier meal than the general public, it's not because the general public can't afford to eat fresh vegetables.

And is it OK to point out that 2/3 of the people in America's jails haven't been convicted of anything, but have been denied a bail they can afford?  Since the rule is "innocent until proven guilty", it seems unfair to deprive innocent people of a healthy diet.