No More ‘Cruel and Unusual’ Food for New York State Prisoners

Its ingredients vary by state. Some include beans, others add raisins; dehydrated potato flakes occasionally find their way into the dreaded prison dish. But one thing remains constant: No one wants to eat Nutraloaf.

Now, thanks to a raft of reforms made to New York state’s solitary confinement policy as part of a lawsuit settlement, prisons will no longer be serve the bland loaf. Sometimes referred to as “disciplinary loaf,” Nutraloaf is served as a culinary punishment for prisoners who misbehave, according to experts involved in the lawsuit.

“I would taste it and just throw it away,” George Eng told The New York Times. Eng served 36 years for murder and spent time in solitary confinement. “You’d rather be without food than eat that.”

The settlement won Wednesday in Peoples v. Fischer by the New York chapter of the ACLU dictates that the corrections department “will replace the loaf…with a nutritious, calorie-sufficient, and palatable alternative meal composed of regular food items that can be safely delivered to and eaten by inmates.” Suggestions include cold cuts, fruit, bread, and coleslaw.

Nutrition experts, advocates, and prisoners have long argued that the punitive meal is more than just unappetizing. While the loaf isn’t center stage in the New York settlement, the brown lump has been the subject of numerous lawsuits. The excessive soy content found in some states’ versions has sparked legal challenges, with experts arguing that large amounts of soy in a prisoner’s diet can cause health problems. Most of these suits—which argue that Nutraloaf constitutes a cruel and unusual punishment in violation of inmates’ Eighth Amendment rights—have been unsuccessful.

Inedible bricks of food aside, advocates say the settlement will bring relief to thousands of prisoners in solitary confinement throughout New York’s prison system. The named plaintiff in the case, Leroy Peoples, spent 780 consecutive days confined in isolation, allegedly for filing false documents, not for a violent outburst. Now, the state will be required to limit time in solitary to a maximum of three months at a time for most cases.

“New York state has recognized that solitary confinement is not only inhumane but detrimental to public safety and has committed to changing the culture of solitary within state prisons,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York ACLU chapter, in a statement.

The agreement will also create programs to help prisoners who have spent time in isolation adjust to life outside prison after their release. Job training, mental health services, and drug treatment will be available through these programs. Numerous studies have shown solitary confinement can aggravate mental illness and trigger suicidal ideations—yet thousands of inmates are released directly from solitary back into communities each year, according to the ACLU.

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