Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Food Budget

The maximum allowance for our food stands at £2.10 per day. I'd like to tell you that this is more than the patrol dogs get, but I'd be lying. This is why prisoners don't have wet noses.

Christmas is on the horizon and some tabloid will reprint a menu handed to them by some landing-rat topping up his beer money. It will read like a fair spread.

Alas, on the plate it is slightly different. Where the menu says 'turkey', and the tabloids conjure up visions of a meaty leg of fowl, the reality is a slice of tinned meat. And so on.

There is no extra money for Christmas, unless the Governor finds some loose change in an obscure corner of his budget. Instead, the kitchen will be chipping away at the daily allowance from here on in, using the savings for Xmas.

When the media cannot even give you the truth about a simple meal, what hope is there for any debate around criminal justice? We all deserve better.


  1. Ben, I find myself deeply conflicted when I read your blog. On the one hand, I find myself agreeing with almost everything you articulate; especially on a human level. On the other, I am probably one of the those people who finds themselves "outraged" by the "prison like butlins" stories and I'm sure, despite myself, I have muttered the line "if you can't do the time..." more than once.

    Perhaps I am not the only person with such conflicting feelings towards imprisonment and prison conditons and this is why the debate over prisons is never fully explored. Even people who see the wrongs, made possible when someone like yourself can communicate them in such a rational way, can't bring themselves to make it right, because we don't always think rationally. But is this down to years of conditioning by the sensationalist media? Or is the sensationalist media just reflecting our natural tendency to make irrational judgements on gut feeling?

  2. We all feel conflict when we encounter challenging ideas. The easy way-out is to find information that reinforces our previous opinions. That is exactly what the media feed to us, so we get what we deserve.

  3. What Ben did not say, perhaps from inside he doesn't know, but studies have shown that giving inmates a proper nutritional diet, even just vitamin pills lowers the rate of violence and other disorder in the prison. Some of the people in prison possibly got into trouble because they are malnourished (note not starving, or hungry, but their food does not have enough vitamins and minerals).

    Note this applies to children too, particularly in the lower stratus of society which is why the move towards better quality food in school meals is being introduced in primary schools. The Mockney Cook was pushing at an open door as up here in Scotland we had already done it. Well nourished kids are quieter in class and learn better.

    So it is actually in society's own self interest to feed those we incarcerate properly. I just wish the tabloids would get on the case, the problem is that sort of stuff doesn't sell papers like a good old moral outrage.

    I am outraged that we spend so little on those we lock up, it is clearly and demonstrably a derrogation of our duty to care let alone a bloody stupid thing for us to do, since most of them get out again.

  4. Interesting this subject has come up given that I read recently a study fom Bournmouth University which indicates that prison diets are better than those in hospitals and better than eaten by civilians. I was unaware of the figure provided for each prisoner so have done a very quick search through The National Audit Office, MOD and NHS sites. I looked at these to compare what each body spent as all involved cooking for large numbers. I am also aware that economies of scale prevails and from the BBC Countryfile programme know catering managers in some prisons source their products locally and do wonders with their resources. I have even seen prison's having their own vegetables again on TV. For example, where I live a sack of potatoes costs £3 whereas 1kg of the same type in a shop costs £1.38. Similarly, a sack of carrots £1 etc. Just think how much less it would be if I was ordering more as market principles apply.

    Whilst prison governors determine the proportion of the budget they spend on food they have to adhere to rules - for example young offender establishments spend more as young men require more calories. Open prisons spend less as many prisoners ate outside at their workplace.

    In 2008, it was reported that 8 NHS Trusts spent less than £3 a day on each inpatient. West Hertfordshire was the lowest at £1.96 whilst other spent £12. To add to the complexity apparently the NHS includes staff and transport costs in the overhead costs of each meal provided. Further, in 2007 (latest figures available)the daily rates for soldiers was £1.51 a day and £3.11 for those serving in Iraq and Afghanastan. Obvious extra calories are required in those countries as well as requirements for coping with climate. This is not a lot of money to me given that our soldiers burn up a lot more calories than prisoners or hospital inpatients.

    So - after reading Ben's statement my initial reaction was one of shock as I compared the figure to what I spend at home. However, one has to compare what other similar bodies spend and it seems apparent that the Prison Service is no different.

    Christmas is another issue and I am surprised that tinned meat is given on such an occasion when even chicken would be cheaper to buy. Is this the experience in all establishments? If so, then the Catering Manager should be held to account as I am sure Army and NHS Caterers would not dish up such food on such an occasion.

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  6. As a ex prisoner, and a vegan, my diet was better than most, as i used to get extra nutrition via a vegan pack, ie nuts, etc. (HMP Cookham Wood) I served 5 months. I think it was like butlins, Prison doesn't bother me, it is all the c*** that goes with it, court case, loss of job, income, home, any family/kids. I was lucky, had plenty of visitors/mail, but many don't. I would say 80% + are there for drugs, either importation, or doing a crime to pay for a habbit. And after what i've seen, i don't wish drug addiction on anyone.