Monday, March 24, 2008

Mmmmm, Nutraloaf!

The Vermont Supreme Court heard arguments today in a class action suit brought on behalf of state prison inmates. At question is whether the special diet called nutraloaf is food or a behavioral modification tool, i.e., punishment. Inmates claim that it is punishment and prisoners should first have access to a formal disciplinary processes.

The Vermont inmate, Christopher Williams, 29, who has brought the class action, was convicted for killing two people in a 2006 Essex school shooting. He was served the nutraloaf in prison after assaulting guards and smearing excrement in his cell.

Vermont Corrections Commissioner Rob Hofmann said, "It's commonplace in other states as a way of providing nutrition in a mechanism that dissuades inmates from throwing feces, urine, trays and silverware ... It tends to have the desired outcome."

Attorney Seth Lipshutz from Vermont's Prisoner's Rights office acknowledges the state's interest in behavior modification, but says the nutraloaf diet is punishment, "plain and simple", and calling it something else is "playing with words to get what they want. It's wrong and it's sad ... If it's punishment, you've got to follow the rules. Even in prison you get a little bit of due process."

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 1978 Arkansas case, that a mixture known as 'grue' may, for a few days, be tolerable, but would be intolerably cruel over weeks or months. The Michigan Dept of Corrections used nutraloaf and a federal judge ruled in 1988 that it was punishment. Michigan still administers nutraloaf, but only after due process within the prison disciplinary rules.

Jody Kent, Public Policy Coordinator for the National Prison Project of the American Civil Liberties Union, contends nutraloaf "shouldn't be used as punishment ... even in those circumstances, they have to make sure it won't put at risk their health." (Yeah, that's my main concern!)

Inmates given nutraloaf are not being punished, argued Vermont Assistant Attorney General Kurt Kuehl. Rather, it is an effective tool to protect prison staff and property. Most of the criminals served nutraloaf have used forks, spoons, trays, and cups as weapons or a means to store feces and urine before throwing the waste at correctional officers. The nutraloaf is a nutritionally complete meal served on a piece of kitchen paper. Afterward, the inmate undergoes normal disciplinary action.

"Once the offender relents, we stop with the nutraloaf. That's our goal, to protect our staff and not have them subjected to behavior that the average Vermonter would find incomprehensible," said Hoffman. This leaves the duration completely in the hands of the inmate and may be the difference between the arguments of the Corrections Dept and the inmates.

What does this stuff taste like? Hoffman, who has tried nutraloaf, says it's a bit like zucchini bread. "It reminded me of eating my vegetables, and I'm not necessarily a big fan of vegetables."

How can we this dish for our families and church potlucks? The State of Vermont Agency of Human Services Department of Corrections has provided the official PDF Special Management Meal Recipe dated August 28, 1996, superseding the September 26, 1995 recipe (it was improved.)


a. Six (6) slices Whole Wheat Bread, finely chopped
b. Four (4) ounces Non-dairy Cheese, finely grated
c. Four (4) ounces Raw Carrots, finely grated
d. Twelve (12) ounces Spinach, canned, drained
e. Four (4) ounces Seedless Raisins
f. Two (2) cups Great Northern Beans, cooked and drained
g. Four (4) tablespoons Vegetable Oil
h. Six (6) ounces Tomato Paste
i. Eight(8) ounces Milk, powdered, instant nonfat/skim
j. Six (6) ounces Potato Flakes, dehydrated


The above mixture will be divided into three (3) loaves, providing one (1) loaf per meal.

Mix all the ingredients together in a 12-quart stainless steel mixing bowl. Make sure all wet items are drained. Ingredients may be kneaded with hands (wearing plastic gloves) or mixed with a spoon. The mixture should be stiff and just moist enough to spread. Form loaf in glazed bread pan. It is suggested that the loaf pan be placed in the oven on a sheet pan containing water. This will help keep the bottom of the loaf from burning. Bake at 325 degrees for approximately 45 minutes, until each loaf reaches an internal temperature of 155 degrees. The loaf will start to pull away from the side of the bread pan when baking is completed.
If that recipe is not up to your tastes or standards, the recipes of Illinois, Washington, and Maryland are provided at Indigo Continuum.

Oh, by the way, Williams has been disciplined occasionally since his first experience with nutraloaf, but not so seriously as to require nutraloaf. "I presume it was effective," Hofmann said.

Yahoo News
ABC News
Burlington Free Press
State of Vermont

The life of Indigo Red is full of adventure. Tune in next time for the Further Adventures of Indigo Red.

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