Hungry inmates

June 7, 2012

I read and replied to a comment to Charles Blow’s piece about the issue of race in the electorate today in which (in the comment, that is) it was said that prisons supply a safety net of food and shelter.  Actually, the comment specifically claimed that prison’s are a place “where there’s enough to eat” (the comment was posted by KOB of TH on June 7 at 9:12 a.m.).  I replied that many prisoners will tell you there’s not enough to eat.

In fact, at a local county jail in my area, the inmates get supper at 3:30 p.m. in the afternoon, or so, and have to wait til the next morning for their next meal.  They rely on buying food through the jail canteen to tide them over and they have figured out a way to cook in plastic bags (things like rice and beans, if I remember correctly, with melted cheese) and to provide food for new inmates who don’t yet have canteen money.

Many inmates have alcohol and substance issues, and it has struck me as misguided in terms of desiring inmates’ recovery and discouraging their recidivism to pressure their families and friends on the outside into providing them with money for food — it fosters the very type of enabling relationship that is unhelpful to addict and family member or friend.  Whatever these family and friends think about why their “loved one” (I think that’s the current parlance) is incarcerated, most don’t think going hungry is an acceptable part of incarceration.  It’s a short-sighted and unhelpful system.

There are many things we can’t solve, but we should not confuse them with our own contributions to those situations, including those of us who set policy, implement it, and report on it using the usual set of unexamined assumptions of who is to blame and who is irreproachable.


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