Joshua Hairston

FOOD MATTERS, by Joshua Hairston

Excerpt: Coalition For Justice Newsletter.

In 2019 researcher Catherine Peabody, an undergraduate from Washington and Lee University, asked the question: If food in prison was made more nutritious, would health outcomes improve, and recidivism be reduced? Using the Virginia State Department of corrections as her population, she explored this question using the existing empirical evidence and the political feasibility She wrote: Compared to the general population, inmates experience much higher rates of hypertension, heart problems, diabetes, and other chronic conditions (Wang et al., 2017). In examining prisoner deaths from 2000 to 2013, over half were caused by cancer or heart disease (Noonan et al., 2015). Furthermore, the mortality rate of inmates from cancer rose every year from 2008 to 2013. 30% of state and federal prisoners experience hypertension, as opposed to only 18% of the general public. Additionally, 10% of prisoners experience heart problems, whereas only 3% of the general public does. In Virginia state, these numbers are even more staggering: 30% of inmates under 55 and 60% of inmates over 55 have a cardiovascular diagnosis (Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission, 2018). The VA prison population also experiences a high number of diabetes diagnosis 10% of inmates over 55 have diabetes which is much larger than the general population average. Not only does the Virginia incarcerated population have these diseases, but in 2016, 32 inmates died from cancer and 24 from cardiovascular disease amounting to 62% of all Virginia prison deaths (Weiss, 2018). This is a dramatic increase from the national death rates of around 50% for these two complications (Petrochko, 2012). These staggering differences in noncommunicable diseases between the general public and the incarcerated population showcases the need for a radical change in diet to combat this public crisis. Her 39 page report concludes with: Policy changes must be made in order to create these outcomes; Virginia must follow more comprehensive nutrition guidelines and hold prison officials accountable for implementing them properly. Health autonomy is not something that can be taken from an individual and creating a system of negative health outcomes that increase chance of death is unethical and a form of cruel and unusual punishment. The crisis of mass incarceration is directly affected by the number of inmates who recidivate, and reducing the negative effects associated with recidivism is critical to reducing incarceration rates in America.

Joshua Hairston
DOC #1411138

Categories: Joshua Hairston

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