|Tales from the Local Jail: A Few Thoughts on the ‘Loaf’|
|By Gary F. Cornelius, First Lt. (Retired)|
As a retired jail deputy sheriff, I try to keep up with events and developments in the field that was my home for over 27 years. So it was with great interest that I came across a recent article from National Public Radio (NPR) dated January 2, 2014 titled: Food as Punishment: Giving U.S. Inmates ‘The Loaf’ Persists by Eliza Barclay.
It is a well written article that described very clearly why and how the ‘Loaf’ is used in our nation’s prisons and jails. Simply stated, the ‘Loaf’ (Nutraloaf, Nutritious Food Loaf, etc.) is a bread loaf containing vegetables and other foods that are baked in. In some correctional facilities, food staff varies the ingredients. For example, at the Orangeburg-Calhoun (SC) Regional Detention Center, the Nutraloaf blend is a mixture of turkey, fresh vegetables, tomato puree, flour and eggs. Chili powder and salt are added to spice it, and it is baked for an hour. Each ‘loaf’ weighs about 32 ounces and totals about 3,000 calories, 200 calories more than is recommended per meal by the South Carolina Department of Corrections (Sarata, 2010).
Inmates in our nation’s jails who are on disciplinary segregation may receive the ‘loaf’ several times per day in lieu of the regular inmate menu, if it is the policy of the jail in which they are confined.
According to NPR, the ‘loaf’ has been targeted in inmate lawsuits and by some corrections professionals and researchers. The American Correctional Association discourages the use of food as a measure to enforce inmate discipline, and the Federal Bureau of Prisons states that it has never used the ‘loaf’ in its system. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) opines that restrictions on food in correctional facilities or taking it away have been in a way “legally right on the line”. So-some inmates have filed suit, saying that the ‘loaf’ is cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment. Inmate litigators have some backup-prison ‘gruel’, a pasty potato substance was considered unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1970s. Also, a recent informal survey conducted at a meeting of the Association of Correctional Food Service Affiliates indicated that the use of the ‘loaf’ is decreasing in approximately 40% of the responding correctional facilities and about a third (30%) state that they do not use it at all. It has not been easy to dislodge the ‘loaf’; since the beginning of 2012, none of the 22 lawsuits litigating against it have been successful (Barclay, 2014).
So, with all that is going on about the ‘loaf’, what are my views? What should be done?
You may ask:
Two Main Concerns
I have two main concerns. The first, to me, is that the ‘loaf’ is a management tool. Things in jail that we take for granted on the outside including television, recreation (gym), telephones, mail and food are all welcome breaks and distractions in the monotonous life of an inmate. If staff through due process takes away one of these welcome distractions-such as a variety of food-because of serious rule infractions, maybe, just maybe a ‘light bulb’ will go off in the inmate and he or she will think: “ I had better wise up and obey the rules”, or “I cannot eat this again”. After graduated sanctions such as warnings, reprimands, suspended disciplinary time, and loss of privileges, using the ‘loaf’ in disciplinary segregation may be one of the last resorts that staff can use to get an inmate’s attention.
Second-and most important-is staff safety. The men and women who patrol our nation’s jails have to deal with abrasive, unruly, nasty and violent inmates who are chronic rule breakers. They put their lives on the line every day and are frequently the target of inmate abuse. These jail officers deserve our unwavering support and respect. They are aware of the dangers involved with supervising inmates such as having to restrain them, maintain order, enforce the rules and maintain safety and security for all in the jail. If they charge an inmate with a serious rule infraction and that inmate is found guilty-actions have consequences:
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Mr. Cornelius, Terrific article and argument. Thank you for taking the time to both research and write this information. Here are my left-over questions: 1) what about the staff that prolongs the use of the loaf for days, weeks, perhaps months? Is there oversight to make sure this isn't happening? 2) How does the staff follow up to ensure the inmate is actually eating this rather than keeping it in the cell and just starving? 3) Who oversees the nutritional value from jail to jail to prison? IS there an oversight nutritionist? Thank you for helping fill in the blanks--I've never been in the position you are in, or that an inmate is in...