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Developed in partnership with Farm to Institution New England (FINE), this CAFS report examines the laws and policies that shape food in New England’s publicly operated correctional facilities. It offers recommendations for advocates and policymakers to ensure nutritious and safe meals while improving how prison food is sourced and served.

In the midst of budget cuts and other obstacles facing state-run prisons, food is under-prioritized. From sourcing, quality, and safety, to dining environments, the correctional food system often fails to provide individuals who are incarcerated with health, safety, and dignity. One study found that individuals who were incarcerated were six times more likely to contract a foodborne illness than the general population. The population that is incarcerated also experiences higher rates of chronic illness. Meanwhile, as the new report shows, the average cost of a prison meal in New England equates to roughly $1.23—less than half of the cost of the average school lunch meal.

In recent years there has been increasing attention paid to food in prisons in New England. Some efforts have increased access to fresh and local foods and/or provided culinary and agricultural skills and training—but the policy landscape and limited budgets still make increasing food quality difficult. This report is intended to assist policymakers, correctional facility administrators, food service managers, food justice advocates, and the public in understanding the complex set of constitutional, federal, and state laws and policies impacting New England’s prison food system to identify opportunities for reform.

This publication was made possible with support from the United States Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Library, Agricultural Research Service.