Updates on Prison Voice Efforts to Improve WA’s Prison Food System

It has been several months since Prison Voice Washington released its report on food policy in Washington prisons. In that time, we have had some success, though much more needs to be done. Prison Voice members and the incarcerated have worked with DOC’s Statewide Family Council, DOC’s dietician, Correctional Industries, DOC’s internal ombudsman, and Washington’s Department of Health on the following:

  1. Creation of an ongoing commissary working group that has thus far added over ten new healthy food items to Washington State prison commissaries.
  2. Establishing a concrete timeline for DOC to update its policies governing mainline and closed loop meals for the incarcerated to reflect a duty to comply with Executive Order 13-06.
  3. Establishing a 2018 deadline for compliance with Executive Order 13-06. However, Correctional Industries has stated that DOC will need to appeal to the legislature for supplementary budget allocations before full compliance can be achieved.
  4. Improving the vegetable offerings in mainline and closed loop meals, though more needs to be done for DOC to be in full compliance with Executive Order 13-06.

Are you a prison reform advocate outside of Washington state who would like to do some work on your state’s prison food system? Here are some tips to help you in your valiant uphill battle:

  • Federal case law on prison food standards is abysmal. Thus, you may have more success looking to your state laws and state Department of Health for legitimacy and support. Find out exactly which Department of Health staff and governor’s policy advisors work on state nutrition and food policies and call or email them. Find out what state executive orders, state legislation, and nutrition guidelines have been passed/established in your state, and cite key language from these documents in letters to your Department of Corrections, legislators, governor’s policy advisors, etc. You may also wish to cite language from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, as well as USDA nutrition standards, including the USDA Smart Snacks guidelines for public schools. The public school food system faces some of the same challenges that our prison systems face, and can be a good source of ideas for how to address systemic problems.
  • Get contact information for the dietician of your state’s Department of Corrections. Request more information and a meeting with that person.
  • Put in a public records request with your Department of Corrections to obtain prison meal menus, food ingredient labels, order forms listing commissary and food package offerings, etc. This sort of documentation is helpful to have when discussing concerns with legislators or writing reports like ours on your state’s prison food system.
  • Does your state’s Department of Corrections have a Correctional Industries that runs the prison food system? If so, request a meeting with the CI staff in charge of making food purchasing decisions. If possible, request that someone from your Department of Health attend the meeting as well, and request that a collaborative working group be established with representatives from DOH, DOC, and prison reform advocates.
  • If you are the family member of an incarcerated person, find out if your state’s Department of Corrections has a Family Services Unit or a Family Council that can help you communicate with DOC on this issue. If your state’s DOC does not offer a family council, look to the Family Council policies of Washington and California’s prison system, and get help from your DOC’s Family Services Unit in establishing a Family Council. Family Councils get to meet with high level DOC administrators and can do some meaningful work with DOC on important issues. Be persistent, and don’t be afraid to communicate higher and higher up the DOC chain of command on this issue.
  • Contact expert nutritionists at universities and colleges in your state and ask for their help in advocating for improved prison nutrition standards.
  • Network with state and national food policy advocacy groups
  • Research efforts to link local farms with various public food programs in your state

Check back here for future updates on the work we are doing in Washington state!

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