Texas prisons are scaling back meals on weekends to cut costs – a move that could leave inmate blood sugar levels low and tempers high.
Thirty-six prisons are cutting lunches on Saturdays and Sundays, forcing some 23,000 inmates to cram three-meals-worth of calories into an early breakfast and dinner, the New York Times reported. The cutbacks are part of a broader effort to save $2.8 million in food-related expenses, but some nutritionists are crying foul.
“With fewer meals, it’s difficult to get enough nutrients,” said Keith Ayoob, director of the Rose R. Kennedy Center Nutrition Clinic at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City. “It’s likely to negatively affect mood in people who are used to having regular meals.”
The prisons usually serve “brunch” between 5 and 7 a.m. and then dinner from 4 to 6:30 p.m. In between, inmates will be able to buy chips and other snacks from prison commissaries, the Times reported.
“Going from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. without an authorized meal is too long,” said Ayoob, adding that inmates should be bridging the nutrition gap with healthy snacks like fruits, vegetables, whole grains and nuts – not chips.
Hunger can lead to fatigue, headaches and general crankiness – symptoms that could be problematic in the close quarters of state prisons.
But prison officials said the plan won’t impact inmates’ physical or mental well-being.
“Extensive consultation with T.D.C.J.’s [Texas Department of Criminal Justice's] health services department and system dieticians prior to implementation of this plan have allowed us to avoid any medical issues,” Michelle Lyons, spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, told the Times in a statement.
It’s unclear whether inmates will get bigger, more energy-dense meals at breakfast and dinner to compensate for the cuts.
“If they can, I’d recommend they eat a large breakfast and make every calorie count nutritionally,” said Ayoob.