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Article published January 25, 2013
Better inmate meals
Benjamin J. Vincent Butler
From “The Dr. Oz Show” to “The Doctors” and myriad other self-help programs, the importance of proper nutrition is touted as essential for overall health. We not only eat well to stay physically fit, maintain stamina or improve our chances against certain diseases, we eat nutritious foods to help ward off mental fatigue, irritability and a host of other psychological conditions. Therefore, if we know and appreciate the importance of proper nutrition to maintain good mind and body health, why then do the prison systems seemingly overlook the need for well-balanced meal plans and access to healthier foods? Could hunger be a significant cause of inappropriate behavior inside prisons? Some would point out that inmates get three meals a day and have access to commissary foods, so why should they be complaining? Those who visit inmates understand that most meals the inmates receive (including at the Butler County Prison) are based on caloric intake instead of traditional nutritional guidelines. If the lack of proper nutrition is just a simple matter of not enough taxpayer dollars, does that give the county or state prison systems the right and justification not to provide the basic human necessities for health and life? On March 1, 2003, an article in Psychology Today spotlighted studies on the connection between the lack of proper nutrition and criminal behavior. Bernard Gesch, a scientist and former probation officer in the United Kingdom, was inspired to further his research after he noticed that his young offenders showed behavioral improvements while taking vitamin supplements. Later, Gesch conducted an experiment at a maximum-security prison in the United Kingdom involving 231 inmates. To one group he supplied the inmates with daily capsules containing vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids; the other group received a placebo. He found that those who received the supplements broke prison rules 25 percent less often than those taking the placebo. Yet, more remarkably, the greatest reduction was for the more serious offenses such as fighting and assaulting guards, which dropped by 37 percent. His control group showed no change at all. If Gesch is correct, it is a welcome discovery that could revolutionize the rehabilitation of criminal offenders and ease conflicts inside our prisons. We at the Friends and Family of Inmates Support Group, which meets at 6 p.m. on the second Monday of each month at the Mental Health Association, 140 N. Elm St., hear time and time again that our loved ones often are hungry. I challenge those officials who are responsible for prison food allocations to carefully examine what they are feeding the inmates.