Civil Rights

Judge nixes suit against prison food vendor which claimed that menu change posed a safety threat

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Last-minute substitution of food served to Michigan inmates, when prisons run out of popular menu items, has prompted a demand by the state that a private vendor comply with its contract.

But feeding prisoners peanut butter and jelly sandwiches instead of promised sausage and waffles doesn’t rise to the level of a constitutional violation, a federal judge has ruled, even when the substitutions arguably cause a risk of riot, reports

Dismissing a civil rights suit by inmate Iatonda Taylor against former prison food vendor Aramark, U.S. District Judge Paul Maloney pointed out that Taylor, a convicted murderer, had cited in his suit only a single May 2 incident at Bellamy Creek Correctional Facility that posed a safety issue.

When the chow line ran out of waffles, inmates refused to move, demanding that more waffles be purchased at a nearby store. However, the situation was never violent and was soon brought under control, the judge said. Plus, to prove a civil rights violation, Taylor would have to show deliberate indifference on the part of officials and a justified fear for his own safety.

“Plaintiff alleges only one occasion on which the food substitutions caused prisoners to become obstreperous. On that occasion, prison guards were available and were fully able to calm the situation by handcuffing a few agitators before anything more than angry comments were made,” Maloney wrote.

“While the situation may have been tense, plaintiff fails to allege facts supporting his claim that he reasonably remains at substantial risk of serious injury from last-minute food substitutions.”

See also: “Inmates angry over prison meals pose safety threat; state tells vendor to shape up or face sanctions” “Michigan cancels Aramark contract to provide food service at state prisons”

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