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Eighth Amendment

Prison Food Unconstitutionally Bad? No Way, Courts—and Dinner Guests—Say

Posted Jun 25, 2008 1:22 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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Can food served to prisoners be so bad that it's unconstitutional?

That is the question in a series of lawsuits filed in various states over "Nutraloaf," a blended food intentionally served up to misbehaving inmates as punishment, reports Slate.

"Nutraloaf (sometimes called Nutri-loaf, sometimes just 'the loaf') is served in state prisons around the country," Slate explains. "It's not part of the regular menu but is prescribed for inmates who have misbehaved in various ways—usually by proving untrustworthy with their utensils. The loaf provides a full day's nutrients, and it's finger food—no fork necessary."

Inmates have sued over the "disgusting" mishmash of nutritional chow in various states, on various legal theories. Among them: due process (they're served Nutraloaf without a prior hearing) and that it constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Courts, however, have disagreed, and Slate apparently wasn't able to come up with a decision in which one sided with inmates, although a Vermont Supreme Court ruling on the subject is still awaited.

Dinner guests invited by the Slate reporter to try some samples she'd made, according to recipes reportedly used by several states, gave varying reviews. However, most seemed to feel the food wasn't so bad as to constitute unconstitutional prison fare.

"David, a lawyer, liked it and willingly ate a second piece," she writes of the Illinois version. But the third, she notes, was a mistake he later came to regret.

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