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Tales from the Local Jail: A Few Thoughts on the ‘Loaf’
By Gary F. Cornelius, First Lt. (Retired)
Published: 01/20/2014

Loaf 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?

Keep it.

You may ask:
  • “Have I ever tasted the ‘loaf’?
  • “Did it taste good?”
No. I have brought the ‘loaf’ into both my in service jail classes and my corrections college classes. I give a taste to anyone who would like to try it. [One of my college students ate several pieces-he said that he was hungry and it was not so bad.] I tell my classes that there is no dipping sauce made that would ever make the ‘loaf’ taste good.
  • Would I like to eat it every day?
No. I can understand how some inmates on disciplinary segregation may “loathe the loaf”. I can understand that that it is unappetizing and unappealing; and when the inmates all around you are getting hamburgers and fries (they smell so good), you have to unwrap the ‘loaf’ from a greasy plain brown paper bag and eat it.
  • Then why do you want to use it?
Because it is jail. In a jail you must have order, security and safety. As a jail correctional deputy with two tours in classification in my career, I worked with a dedicated, hardworking professional staff that would conduct many disciplinary hearings. After a while, you know who the disciplinary problems are. You are not surprised when you pick up an inmate’s file and you have to conduct the fifth or sixth (or more) disciplinary hearing. You remember that you gave inmates a rulebook; you tried to convey to them the importance of reading it, going along with the staff, treating other inmates and staff with respect and obeying the rules of the jail. You come to realize that many never read the rules and are now in an environment that enforces rules-and their lives have been spent not obeying rules or disrespecting others. You talk to the disciplinary problems-some learn their lesson and are sorry and maybe deserve another chance in population. Others lie, scheme and put on a “mask of contriteness”; while secretly itching to get back into population thinking “I won’t get caught next time”. Some are released from disciplinary segregation and end up back in the ‘hole’ with new charges. Some-even on disciplinary segregation-feign medical reasons for not eating the ‘loaf’.

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:
  • “Goodbye jail menu-hello ‘loaf’!”
  • “Don’t like the ‘loaf’? Obey the rules next time.”
In closing, I think that Josh Gelinas, spokesman for the South Carolina Department of Corrections said it best when asked about the use of Nutraloaf (Barclay, 2014): “There is very little that we [staff] can take away from them [inmates] when they commit these infractions, but we will not compromise our officers’ safety or put them in harm’s way.”

Well said.

  1. Barclay, Eliza. (January 2, 2014). Food as Punishment: Giving U.S. Inmates ‘The Loaf’ Persists. National Public Radio, the salt: food for thought. Retrieved January 7, 2014 from http://www.npr.org

  2. Sarata, Phil. (May 16, 2010). Nutraloaf: Inmates hate it, jail officials say it works. The TandD.com. Retrieved January 7, 2014 from http://thetanddd.com
Corrections.com author, Gary Cornelius, is an interim member on the Board of the International Association of Correctional Training Personnel (IACTP) representing local jails. He is also a member of ACA, AJA, and the American Association of Correctional and Forensic Psychology. In 2008, Gary co founded ETC, LLC, Education and Training in Corrections with colleague Timothy P. Manley, MSW, LCSW, Forensic Social Worker.

Visit the Gary Cornelius page

Other articles by Cornelius:


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