According to a new report from HM Inspectorate of Prisons, just 29 percent of inmates describe the meals they receive as "good"—and it's leading to violence.
It's no secret that prison food is shit. Those residing at Her Majesty's pleasure may no longer be kept on Dickensian porridge but they can expect equally unappetising powdered milk, bland stews, and even horse meat.
And now, according to a new report, food in British prisons has gotten so bad that it's causing prisoners to become violent.
Released by HM Inspectorate of Prisons, the Life in Prison: Food report inspected prisons and young offender institutions in England and Wales, and drew on existing prison food research. It found that the low quality of food served by these institutions, combined with small portion sizes, was leading to frustration among prisoners.
Prisons in the UK are allowed to spend £2 per inmate a day on food, which is almost five times less than the budget for hospital patients. For breakfast, prisoners typically receive a pack containing cereal, milk, and tea and coffee sachets. Lunch is a sandwich, wrap, or portion of pasta, served with fruit, crisps, or biscuits, followed by dinner of curry, pie, or baked fish.
This may not sound all that dissimilar from the average student diet, but the Inspectorate's report found that due to small budgets and lack of nutritional standards for meals in prison, these meals were often of very low quality. Just 29 percent of prisoners surveyed described their meals as "good" or "very good," with one inmate branding them as "half cooked and not edible." Another said: "There's not a good variety of fruit and veg at all. No greens in veg. No oranges, etc. We get apples only."
The report also criticised portion sizes, calling out the breakfast packs as "inadequate on their own" and noting that many prisons run out of food "on a regular basis."
And it wasn't just the meals themselves that were bad. The inspectorate found that "prisoners' ability to eat communally varied across the prison estate," with many institutions forcing inmates to eat in their cells, sometimes even sitting on the toilet. This was due to staffing shortages or an absence of communal dining facilities, the report concluded.
As ex-prisoner Josho told MUNCHIES in 2014: "You'd be taken back up to your cell where you'd have half an hour to eat. You basically eat, sleep, and shit in one place."
The Inspectorate warned that such eating conditions, combined with the "poor nutritional provision" of prison meals, could easily lead to aggression among inmates. It said: "Food can also affect security resourcing and safety in prison, as frustration over food can serve as a catalyst for aggression and dissent."
There have already been cases of food-related disruption in British prisons. Last year, an inmate at HMP Northumberland became so angry after being served a cold meal that he staged a protest on a high railing for several hours, forcing prison staff to call a tactical response unit.
Following the report, the Inspectorate has recommended that the National Offender Management Service (the Ministry of Justice agency that oversees prisons) ensures that meals for inmates meet specific nutritional values and adhere to regular eating times. It also said that prisoners should be able to eat out of cells communally and provide opportunities for self-catering.
But with Government services already struggling to feed people on the outside, it seems unlikely that those behind bars will see improvement to food offerings anytime soon.