With budgets tight, states and local governments have been looking at prisons — and prison food — as a place to save money. Three days a week, Georgia now serves inmates only two meals. And across the country, there have been increasing reports of substandard food. This is inhumane. Adequate meals should be a nonnegotiable part of a civilized penal system. It is also bad policy. Researchers have found a connection between poor food quality and discipline problems and violence.
Georgia has nevertheless decided to save on staff costs by serving just two meals on Friday, as it already did on Saturday and Sunday. The state says it gives prisoners the same number of calories on days when one meal is skipped. Even if it does — and some prisoners’ advocates are skeptical — it can be oppressive to go so long without eating..........Cutbacks in food could violate inmates’ constitutional rights, notes Elizabeth Alexander, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project, if they create a substantial risk of serious harm — a particular concern for inmates with diabetes and other illnesses.If states and localities want to save money on corrections, they should reduce their prison and jail populations. The United States, which has less than 5 percent of the world’s population, has almost one-quarter of its prisoners. Many are in for nonviolent crimes that could be punished in more constructive, and less costly, ways. If governments decide to put inmates behind bars, they have to give them adequate food — which means no less than three healthy meals a day.