Russell Webster

Russell Webster

Criminal Justice & substance misuse expert and author of this blog.

Everything you should know about prison food

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New prison inspectorate report says some prisons are feeding inmates for £1.87 per day - one fifth of the budget for hospital patients.

Food, glorious food?

If you’re interested in the realities of prison life, then HM Inspectorate of Prisons “findings” series is a must-read. Earlier this year, I covered their reports on money in prison and contact with families and friends. Today, I’m turning my attention to their latest (7 September 2016) report: Life in Prison: Food.

The basic approach of the “findings” reports is for the inspectorate to use the data gathered in dozens of different inspections to explore how prisons measure up to official expectations around these cornerstones of prison life.

The introduction to the report sets the context for inspectors’ examination of food in prison:

Food plays a crucial role in our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. Much of human social interaction is centred on food, and we use food choices and eating habits to construct our gender, ethnic, cultural and personal identities.

Food also represents an opportunity to indulge, communicate affection, and to experience religion and tradition. In prison, mealtimes are a focal point of the day. They break up the monotony of daily life in custody, and provide opportunities for association with others.

The majority of what prisoners eat in prison is determined for them. Unlike in the community, prisoners do not have the freedom to decide what or how much they want to eat, nor are they able to choose when they eat the majority of their meals.

I created the infographic below to share some of HMIP’s most interesting revelations:



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5 Responses

  1. It appears prisoners are better catered for than old people in homes. Who have done nothing wrong and possibly served queen and country in the conflicts perhaps more time and money should be spent looking after our elderly. Some who have possibly but mugged,robbed,burgled by the prisoners you are concerned about feeding ?

  2. If prisoners have complaints about treatment in prisons, maybe they should have contemplated their actions that led to imprisonment. That’s not saying I support inhumane conditions. No, but I think it’s also important to be realistic about what punishment is about.

    1. Your appeal to logic is spurious.
      Punishment is supposed to be about incarceration & intrinsic lack of libery, not being banged up for 23 hours a day on hunger rations in an icy cell.

  3. In 2002 Oxford University undertook a £1.4 million study in three young offenders institutes involving over a 1,000 subjects over 18 months. In the trial one half were given a placebo the other half dietary supplement pills. The result was a 35% drop in violence for the group on dietary supplement, thereby proving a link between diet and brain behaviour. This trial has been repeated elsewhere with better results. Dietary supplement pills are not the only source of vitamins. A good meal has an additional psychophysical advantage that we have all experienced, a feeling of goodwill to those we are sharing it with.

    In prisons a dietician calculates the number of carbohydrates needed to keep you alive. This is an improvement on Nazi Concentration Camps, the Prison authorities claim there is always a low carb alternative, but this is deficient in vitamins to so a Hobsons choice.

    Following the Oxford University report, the officials at NOMS stated “It did not accept the findings of the study and would not be putting more money into further research”. The former chief inspector of prisons, Lord David Ramsbotham described this as “totally infuriating as well as being extremely stupid”.

    Everything is interlinked. Someone has costed providing good nutrition in the prison diet would cost £55 million, that is roughly doubling the food allowance up towards the asylum seekers allowance. This should reduce violence in prisons by a third or more.

  4. Thanks for your comment. The abundant evidence of the importance of a healthy diet for everyone applies equally (or more accurately, more, given the lack of opportunities for exercise and natural sunlight and the pressures of a very stressful environment) to prisoners.

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