Food justice and prison food systems: exploring the potential for reframing prison food from punitive to restorative Public Deposited

Prison food system exploration is generally absent within various examinations of food justice work and research. However, this research investigates United States prison food systems in order to inform an understanding of food’s roles in these institutions so that prison food issues can be more effectively addressed within the food justice and prison reform movements. Examining United States penal institutions’ food systems highlights the consequences of understanding healthy food as a privilege rather than a basic human right. Control, cost, and capitalistic considerations of food have become emblematic of penal injustice. A growing for-profit prison industry, outsourcing of food to private service providers, and growing inmate population burdens all substantiate the concern. In the pursuit of abject punishment we have replaced the innate human quality of life through sustenance with inhumane manipulation of food for cruel and unusual punishment. If the role of the prison is to normalize the inmate towards reintegration within acceptable society then prison food systems are a direct representation of what society perceives as normalization. Data for this research was collected through literature review of food justice literature, prison reform literature and penal law literature. Results conclude that the insufficiency of food justice to incorporate prison food system analysis determines a need. By reframing food from punitive to restorative there is the potential to contribute towards reduced recidivism as well as improving public health rates. This brief study should inspire other academics and activists to engage food justice beyond place-based ideologies and remember that those who are “placeless” deserve just as much potential for transformation.

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