Do prisioners DESERVE special diets?

Prison food is usually quite… bad. It is obvious why - they want to cut costs and the guys who happen to be in prison don’t really deserve many luxuries. But what if the prisioner has special dietary needs - he is a vegan/vegetarian, or he is allergic to gluten, or maybe he is Jewish and can’t eat pork - does he deserve to get his special diet?

Denigrating someone’s religious beliefs is sure to make them a better candidate for rehabilitation. :rolleyes:

Vegetarian/vegan that isn’t religious-based is different. So is gluten-free, but for different reasons. The only one that I think is amenable to modification is vegan.

One argument is if the prisoner couldn’t follow his religion’s basic beliefs/moral code enough to stay out of jail, then he has no claim on receiving a religiously prescribed diet.

Veganism/vegetatianism, while some followers tend to be rather sanctimonious, doesn’t really prohibit unlawful behavior.

Food allergies, the State has an obligation to protect.maintain the health of the inmate.

Nope. I think that they should just be grateful that they are getting any food at all!

A few jails and prisons have switched to a vegetarian/vegan menu to cut costs (since meat is expensive).
That would seem to solve a lot of these hassles, since most of the religious prohibitions on food involve meat products (like pork or mixing dairy with meat).

I think forcing someone who genuinely has celiac disease to eat gluten could be considered cruel since they do suffer physical problems from gluten, though a lot of people now eat gluten-free as a fad.

Yea, to the extent that special diets are based on religious or ethical concerns, depriving prisoners of them doesn’t seem like its likely to help them rehabilitate.

To the extent that their for health concerns, I think we have a moral obligation to help prisoners maintain some standard of health (within reason, stuff like fad diets and the like are obviously unnecessary).

I don’t think “deserve” is really a factor.

Not a fan of the Eighth Amendment I take it?

Most people who are locked up will eventually get out. What purpose is served by having the government prevent them from practicing their religion or following other ethical proscriptions? And don’t say it motivates them to stay out of prison- if prison itself doesn’t do that, screwing with their diets won’t help.

I think it largely depends on whether your philosophy of prison is that it should aim to be primarily focused on rehabilitation or retribution*.

Obviously, even rehabilitation has to require some punishment, you can’t make going to prison a privilege, but I think allowing prisoners to have personal dietary restrictions is fine as long as they don’t get too complex or expensive (“I have to have filet mignon with lobster on Saturdays”), or ends up entailing that their dietary restrictions always results in better food than their peers.

  • Granted, most who believe in retribution believe (rightly or wrongly) that retribution accomplishes rehabilitation by proxy of making a released prisoner not want to return to prison. “Scare em straight” essentially.

Prisoners deserve decent nutrition. They also deserve decent living conditions. They deserve these things because they are human beings. People who deprive others of their basic rights go to prisons. The only way a government can retain the legitemate right to incarcerate someone is to employ the same standards they expect the prisoner to uphold in society. Otherwise it’s just a matter of one bully having more power than another.

Of course, that’s a complicated and uncomfortable notion that is readily disregarded by society.

That made me laugh…

I recall hearing that prisoners incarcerated in the New England states in the early 1900’s protested that they were sick of eating lobster!

A rice-based vegan diet is adequately nutritious and avoids many potential allergens and religiously prohibited foods.

It’s also cheap and punitively-boring.
The situation in British prisons is getting ridiculous, people are actually converting to Islam to get relatively luxurous halal food.

The nutrient loaf thing they serve in some prisons is supposed to be horrible, too. I get the sense that every couple of decades the trend in prisons switches from emphasizing punishment to emphasizing rehabilitation, and I think we’re at the far end of a punishment swing.

Vegan/vegetarian isn’t a special dietary NEED, it’s a special dietary choice. Allergies are a different matter, unless you want your prisoners to start spending their sentence in the infirmary or dying or whatever depending on the severity of the allergy (not that most gluten allergies aren’t overblown).

Religious restrictions, well, I suppose they should offer an alternative, but make sure the alternative is less appealing (though still perfectly edible and of nutritional value), so no one claims to be a religion they aren’t hoping for better food.

Two potential problems here: you’re either kind-of punishing people for their religious beliefs, or you’re putting prison officials in a position of deciding whose religious commitment is for real and whose isn’t.

That was actually in the 1700s. At that time, lobsters were so plentiful, they could literally be picked up off the beaches.

(Yes, I did read “The Lobster Chronicles”, why do you ask? :wink: )

We’re discussing this very topic on another website, in the context of Joe Arpaio proposing no meat as a cost-cutting measure. I thought he had the right idea until I found out how he treats pregnant inmates. No matter what she may have done, it’s not the baby’s fault, and nobody should be fed spoiled milk and moldy lunchmeat, and denied basic medical care.


Just an aside, food has a lot to do with morale. I wonder if it isn’t counterproductive to feed prisoners a highly nutritious variant of spiders and gruel if as a result they grow increasingly malcontented with their living arrangements.

Maybe just feed 'em good, treat 'em good, and institute group punishment when one screws up bad enough, ala: “Ok, Bubba shit in the shower again soooo Vern, Lonzo, Marco and Ishmael will join him in the solitary pen while enjoying a diet of raw popcorn, salt, cactus, and water. The rest of the population may carry on being good citizens. Thank you for your support.”

I’m not in favour of being particularly “nice” to prisoners, but that is a bad argument. Admittedly I am atheist, but I don’t recall any biblical prohibitions against marijuana or other illicit drugs taken in moderation (that qualification is to cover a vague recollection about the body being like a temple or something like that). So, you can’t reasonably deny violators a religiously relevant diet on that basis.

We call that “kosher for Passover.” :slight_smile:

One thing prisons can do to keep a lid on “special diet” desires and proclaimed food allergies is rigid enforcement of them. If an inmate claims celiac, then they’ll never again get any cookies, cake, etc. Those claiming lactose intolerance won’t get ice cream or pudding, etc.