Special diets for inmates

I have always asserted that America’s prison population is over and above other similar nations for a few reasons.  One of which is that prison is not uncomfortable enough for the prisoners.  Internet access, television, access to higher education at the taxpayer’s expense, etc.  Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t want to go to prison but compared to the rest of the world, our prisoners have ‘rights’ some free people in some countries don’t have.

An AP article in a local news paper piqued my interest.  I read about a complaint made by a prisoner that his dietary ‘needs’ weren’t being met.  My eyes rolled.  Having worked in law enforcement and been in many lock-ups and jails, I know how often the jailed attempt to get over on the staff.  On a tangent, I remember one night at the overnight lock-up a man waiting for arraignment the next morning wanted juice.  He had juice already but apparently needed more because he has ‘sugarbetes’.  Anyway, prisoners routinely claim allergies and religious exemptions in an effort to secure a different meal than the one provided, which isn’t too appetizing, but easily consumable.

(NHRegister.com) — A vegetarian prison inmate in Connecticut has a beef with his prison diet, saying the state is feeding him seafood three times a week and justifying it by telling him that fish is not meat.

Howard Cosby, who was sentenced in 2004 to 191/2 years in prison for sexual assault and other crimes, has enlisted the help of an animal rights group in his quest to receive a vegetarian diet at the Corrigan-Radgowski Correctional Institution in Uncasville as a practicing Buddhist.

In a letter to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the 35-year-old Cosby said his administrative complaints were dismissed by prison officials, who told him that his diet is classified as vegetarian because the department does not consider fish to be meat.

“Clearly fish is meat,” said Jeff Kerr, an attorney for PETA. “They have thoughts. They have interests. They have a central nervous system. They are not swimming vegetables.”

In principle, I oppose dietary exemptions and believe inmates ought to be served the food the prison provides.  I’m not a fan of special diets which aren’t medically necessary, even for religious purposes.  When one can’t live life without breaking the law, you forgo some of life’s luxuries.

However, I see the purpose of providing an alternative diet upon legitimate request, it provides a sense of humanity to the imprisoned.  After all, they needn’t be treated like animals  Requesting alternate fare for religious purposes is reasonable for this end.  But it should be in accord with hard and fast tenets of a religion.

In this case Buddhism doesn’t require vegetarianism in the way Judaism requires a non-shellfish diet or Islam bars pork.  In this case Cosby is voluntarily a vegetarian.  I think that makes a difference doesn’t it?

Should inmates be provided special fare upon certain request?  What would make a request unreasonable?


  1. This is really win win. PETA gets their news coverage for all of the usual reasons and gets a new poster idiot, ….errrr boy, and I would still feed him exactly whats on the menu. He can choose not to eat the fish, in the same way he chooses to be a vegetarian.

    I also wouldn’t allow for a religious exemption. If you don’t want the pork that day, don’t eat it. Religious exemptions are no different for me than the “choice” to be a vegetarian.

    Only a legitimate medical reason should make for change in fare. Sugarbetes doesn’t count.

  2. Medical exemptions, yes, but I’m not too keen on religious exemptions. I’d be more inclined to accept adaptions for those waiting for trial, but for those found guilty and in prison, no exemptions. I don’t think they should have internet access or TV, either. Education and training, sure, but not entertainment.

  3. As a younger man, I was no stranger to the county jail. It was always minor, misdeameanor stuff for me, but that didn’t mean I was given any special treatment. I was in there once for an unpaid traffic ticket bunking with a guy whose charge was “conspiracy to do great bodily harm, less than murder.”

    Anyway, his lawyer told him he could work a deal with the prosecutor so that he’d only have to do one year in the county jail and five years probation. He rejected the deal, preferring to be sentenced to prison for 2 years. He didn’t want to spend a year in the county jail because county jails suck. Isn’t that something?

    Ever since I’ve said that prisons need to be run like county jails. In prison, depending on the security level, you have XBOX 360s, PS3s, all kinds of stuff – plus free education from a reputable school. For some people, it’s almost worth going to prison for a couple years.

    I’m fine with the free education aspect, but seriously, 360s and PS3s? Crazy.

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