Could Food be so Bad it's Unconstitutional?
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – A federal judge has ordered the release of an Alabama sheriff he locked up after ruling that the sheriff purposely fed jail inmates skimpy meals so he could profit from state funds.
U.S. District Judge U.W. Clemon issued a brief order Thursday saying Morgan County Sheriff Greg Bartlett could be freed based on promises from his lawyer, who presented the court with a plan for improving the jailhouse meals.
The sheriff's whereabouts weren't immediately clear. But Clemon ordered his arrest late Wednesday after a hearing in which Bartlett said he made $212,000 over three years by cheaply feeding prisoners, some of whom complained of constant hunger in jail.
Bartlett kept the money legally under a Depression-era state law and said he reported the profit on his tax forms as income.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Obama asked to save prisoners from soy 'torture'
Posted: November 18, 2008
By Bob Unruh
President-elect Barack Obama is being asked to intervene in the state he represented in the U.S. Senate to halt a prison "feeding program" that is causing health problems for inmates, according to a nutrition organization.
In an open letter to Obama, Sally Fallon Morell, president of the Weston A. Price Foundation, said the existing procedures are "poisoning" inmates.
Obama, Morell wrote, should "focus on a grave injustice taking place in the prisons of your home state, namely, a prison diet that is slowly killing the inmates assigned to the Illinois Department of Corrections.
"This is a diet based largely on soy protein powder and soy flour. As you stated on last night's 60 Minutes Program, America does not condone torture. I think you would agree that what is happening in the Illinois prisons is a form of torture," Fallon wrote.
Soy products have been in the news in recent months after a new study from Harvard indicated that consumption of soy lowers sperm count.
The study suggested confirmation of a series of reports documented by WND columnist Jim Rutz, who described soy's "feminizing" effect on men.
According to a report from Reuters, the study was done by Jorge Chavarro of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, whose work appeared in the journal Human Reproduction.
It reportedly is the largest study of humans to look at the relationship between semen quality and a plant form of the female sex hormone estrogen known as phytoestrogen, which is plentiful in soy-rich foods.
Now comes the Price Foundation letter to Obama, which states that soy protein and soy flour are toxic, "especially in large amounts."
"The U.S. Food and Drug Administration lists 288 studies on its database showing the toxicity of soy. Numerous studies show that soy consumption leads to nutrient deficiencies, digestive disorders, endocrine disruption and thyroid problems," the letter said.
WND contacted officials with the Illinois Department of Corrections, but officials could not comment on the claims immediately.
The Price Foundation letter said "even the most ardent supporters of soy, such as Dr. Mark Messina, warn against consuming more than about 20 grams of soy protein per day."
However, the inmates in Illinois are fed up to 100 grams per day – beef and chicken by-product mixtures containing 60-70 percent soy, fake soy meats and cheese, "even soy added to baked goods," the letter said.
The soy products are produced by Archer Daniel Midlands, according to the Price Foundation, but ADM officials did not return a WND call requesting comment.
The Price Foundation said ADM "contributed heavily to the campaign of [Illinois Gov.] Rod Blagojevich. The change from a diet based largely on beef to one based on soy happened in 2003, when Mr. Blagojevich began his first term as governor."
Morell said her office has heard from "dozens" of Illinois inmates pleading for help.
"Almost all suffer from serious digestive disorders, such as diarrhea or painful constipation, vomiting, irritable bowel syndrome and sharp pains," she said. "… One reason for these problems is the high oxalic acid content of soy – no food is higher in oxalic acid than soy protein isolate, which can contain … at least six times higher than the amount found in typical diets."
Oxacil acid, the letter said, is associated with kidney stones, can disrupt heart functions, replace bone marrow cells and impair nerve functions.
"When the prisoners seek medical treatment, they are told that soy does not cause the problems they are experiencing. Even those who vomit or pass out immediately after eating soy cannot get an order for a soy-free diet. They are told: 'If the soy disagrees with you, don't eat it. Buy food from the commissary,'" Morell told Obama.
"It is said that a nation is judged on the way it treats its prisoners," Morell wrote in her letter. "The American prison system is predicated on the premise that criminals can be rehabilitated. To feed prisoners a diet that can permanently ruin their health robs them of any opportunity for rehabilitation, renders them unfit for normal life when they are released, and will impose an unnecessary burden on the state’s medical services.
"It constitutes a medical experiment and amounts to cruel and unusual punishment and must be stopped," she wrote.
Rutz's original reports, starting in 2006 with one titled 'Soy is making kids 'gay,'' cited a number of studies and described soy as a "slow poison."
"Now, I'm a health-food guy, a fanatic who seldom allows anything into his kitchen unless it's organic. I state my bias here just so you'll know I'm not anti-health food," Rutz wrote.
"The dangerous food I'm speaking of is soy. Soybean products are feminizing, and they're all over the place. You can hardly escape them anymore.
"I have nothing against an occasional soy snack. Soy is nutritious and contains lots of good things. Unfortunately, when you eat or drink a lot of soy stuff, you're also getting substantial quantities of estrogens," he continued.
"Estrogens are female hormones. If you're a woman, you're flooding your system with a substance it can't handle in surplus. If you're a man, you're suppressing your masculinity and stimulating your 'female side,' physically and mentally," he wrote. "In fetal development, the default is being female. All humans (even in old age) tend toward femininity. The main thing that keeps men from diverging into the female pattern is testosterone, and testosterone is suppressed by an excess of estrogen.
"If you're a grownup, you're already developed, and you're able to fight off some of the damaging effects of soy. Babies aren't so fortunate. Research is now showing that when you feed your baby soy formula, you're giving him or her the equivalent of five birth control pills a day. A baby's endocrine system just can't cope with that kind of massive assault, so some damage is inevitable. At the extreme, the damage can be fatal."
He concluded that soy is "feminizing, and commonly leads to … homosexuality," prompting hundreds, if not thousands, of e-mails of outrage.
Many who wrote reflected the same concerns included in a PRNewswire statement from the Soyfoods Association of North America.
The organization called Chavarro's work a "small scale, preliminary study."
"This study is confounded by many issues, thus I feel the results should be viewed with a great deal of caution," warned Dr. Tammy Hedlund, a researcher in prostate cancer prevention from the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center in the Soyfoods Association statement.
"Chavarro's study conflicts with the large body of U.S. government and National Institute of Health-sponsored human and primate research, in which controlled amounts of isoflavones from soy were fed and no effect on quantity, quality or motility of sperm were observed," the trade group said.
Nobody thinks prison food is haute cuisine, but could it be so bad it's unconstitutional? The question comes up more often than you might think, and there's one dish in particular that so offends the palates of America's prisoners that it's repeatedly been the subject of lawsuits: Nutraloaf.
Nutraloaf (sometimes called Nutri-loaf, sometimes just "the loaf") is served in state prisons around the country. 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.
Prisoners sue over Nutraloaf with some regularity, usually arguing either that their due process rights have been violated (because they are served the punitive loaves without a hearing) or that the dish is so disgusting as to make it cruel and unusual and thus a violation of the Eighth Amendment. Typical of these suits is the 1992 case LeMaire v. Maass. Samuel LeMaire slit a man's throat before going to state prison and attacked his prison guards and fellow prisoners with sharpened poles, feces, and a homemade knife once inside. LeMaire was then put in a Nutraloaf-serving disciplinary unit. Among other complaints about the accommodations there, LeMaire argued that Nutraloaf was cruel and unusual and thus violated his 8th Amendment rights.
A lower court agreed with LeMaire and ordered the prison to serve him something more delicious. The 9th Circuit, however, overturned the lower court's decision, holding that while Nutraloaf may be unappetizing, "The Eighth Amendment requires only that prisoners receive food that is adequate to maintain health; it need not be tasty or aesthetically pleasing."
Prisoners in Illinois, Maryland, Nebraska, New York, Pennsylvania, Washington, and West Virginia, among other states, have sued over Nutraloaf or its equivalent. The latest court to hear a Nutraloaf case is the Vermont Supreme Court, where prisoners argued that Vermont's use of the loaf violated their due process rights. (In Vermont, the punishment is one loaf, served at normal meal times, for up to a week.) Oral arguments (MP3) were heard in March, and a decision is expected to come down by the end of the year. But it doesn't look good for the prisoners. The lawyer representing the prisoners noted that "Nutraloaf has been found to be uniformly unappetizing to everyone who has been served it." To which one justice replied: "Counsel, I've eaten Nutraloaf. And it isn't tasty. But many things I've eaten aren't tasty."
Even unsympathetic courts seem willing to concede that Nutraloaf is pretty disgusting, but after reading through the court filings in these cases, I couldn't shake a nagging question—just how bad is it? Nutraloaf is made differently in different prisons. Vermont's penal cookbook calls for a combination of vegetables, beans, bread, cheese, and raisins. I recently spent $15 on a nearly identical dish at a vegan cafe in New York—and it didn't even have raisins. In a spirit of legal and culinary adventurousness, I decided to make some Nutraloaf of my own.
I chose three test recipes that seemed representative of the various loaves served in prisons across the land: a vegan Nutraloaf from Illinois that is heavy on processed ingredients (and has been the subject of lawsuits); a meat recipe from California that favors fresh, natural ingredients (which has not been challenged in court); and the Nutraloaf from Vermont, the one most recently at issue before a court.
I started with Illinois. I mixed canned spinach in with baked beans, tomato paste, margarine, applesauce, bread crumbs, and garlic powder. Together the ingredients became a thick, odorous, brown paste, which I spread into a loaf pan and put in the oven. After 40 minutes, I took the loaf out of the oven and sliced some off. It was dense and dry and tasted like falafel gone wrong. But instead of it making me feel pleasantly sated like falafel does, even the small test slice I sampled gave me a stomachache.
I cooked up Vermont next, wondering what I'd gotten myself into. Vermont was like Illinois but with raisins and nondairy cheese. I'm a vegetarian, so my sister-in-law Lori volunteered to cook the California loaf, which includes ground beef. As she mixed up the chopped cabbage, diced carrots, cubed potatoes, whole wheat flour, and beans, I realized that what she was making looked delicious, at least compared with the first two loaves. Lori kindly offered to make two California loaves—one with meat and one without, our only deviation from the Nutraloaf recipes.
To test the loaves, I invited friends and relatives over for what I promised would be an educational dinner party. This being Washington, D.C., more than half the adults were lawyers, which I thought gave our experiment a nice jurisprudential twist. To keep the Nutraloaf test authentic, I mandated that my guests eat with their hands; plus, after sneaking in that taste of Illinois earlier in the day, I was worried someone might stab me if I let them use utensils.
I thought I'd start out easy with the loaf that hasn't inspired a lawsuit—yet. California looked nice on the plate, though it didn't quite hold together as a loaf. I picked some off my plate with my fingers. It tasted a bit like vegetarian chili. Not bad. My cousin Steve, a mortgage broker who had sampled the California loaf with meat, disagreed. "It's what you imagine Alpo tastes like," he said. Lori said she liked it and said she'd even consider making it again, though she'd use more spices. Lee, a lawyer and her husband, asked her not to.
Next came Illinois. I couldn't bear to try another piece; the others were divided about whether it was cruel or merely unusual. Lee described Illinois as "absolutely detestable." David, a lawyer, liked it and willingly ate a second piece. Steve summed up Illinois generously: "I think if you like baked beans, you like Illinois. I like baked beans. I wouldn't think it's fair to sue anyone over it."
Last came Vermont. It looked the best of the three—it was moist—and the nondairy cheese and canned carrots gave it a fetching orange color. But it tasted terrible. Mike, a computer guy at NASA, said the raisins were disconcerting; you couldn't tell if they were supposed to be in there or not. Steve said he hated it, but it wasn't the worst thing he'd ever eaten. I asked him what was the worst thing he'd ever eaten. "Cat," he said. "But I didn't know it was cat." David, meanwhile, helped himself to another slice of Illinois, a decision he later came to regret. "The third slice sits a little heavy," he said.
As the night went on, and wine washed away the taste of loaves, we discussed the Eighth Amendment and how bad food would actually have to be in order to be unconstitutional. Kim, a lawyer who works in asylum law and knows a human rights violation when she sees one, said the loaves would have to be extremely bad—considerably worse than any of the food we'd just eaten. Courts have nearly all found that prison food can be unappetizing, cold, and even contain foreign objects, and still not be unconstitutional.
Inmates hoping for relief from the courts for their Nutraloaf punishments aren't likely to get it from the courts. They won't likely get it from the prison cooks, either. When the Vermont prison's lawyer was asked during oral arguments why Nutraloaf couldn't be made more appetizing, he answered that if it were tastier, then prisoners would act up for the privilege of getting Nutraloaf. Hardly a ringing endorsement for the rest of the prison menu.
Arin Greenwood is a lawyer and freelance writer living in Washington, D.C.
Article URL: http://www.slate.com/id/2193538/
Three Strikes Legal - Index