Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist is found in the street as an infant and put in a workhouse by the age of nine where he and other boys unravel old rope. In the workhouse Oliver is the victim of slow starvation, the diet consisting of three small bowlfuls of oatmeal gruel per day, an onion twice a week and a roll on Sunday. Under this regimen which reduces the boys to living skeletons, Oliver and his companions become voraciously hungry.
At last they hold a council and choose by lot one among them to ask the overseer for more gruel. The victim of the lottery is Oliver Twist. The time arrives, and ‘desperate with hunger and reckless with misery’, Oliver gets up from the table and walks slowly to the master, basin and spoon in hand…….
“Please, sir, I want some more.”
Oliver got nothing but trouble.
Pivot to the 21st century and our federal prisons today in this country, and to two examples of how Correctional Service of Canada keeps offenders “desperate with hunger and reckless with misery.” We’ll look at just one of those examples here.
FOOD: The previous federal government under Stephen Harper ordered ministerial across-the-board cost-cutting measures. Correctional Service of Canada followed suit, finding economies that would primarily impact inmates, whose concerns CSC need not consider or address.
Food was one target, and the Service initiated a “Cook Chill” process, bulk preparation, cooled and distributed to institutions for reconstitution and heating. Were there complaints about food quality and serving sizes? Absolutely. There still are. And worse, economies decreased spending to $5.41 per day per inmate, a 2600 daily caloric intake which is recommended for a low activity male, aged 31 – 50! Not as severe as Oliver’s three daily bowls of gruel but leaving inmates hungry all the same. And, not exactly the conditions conducive for offenders to be “well-prepared to lead safe, productive, law-abiding lives” upon release.
“If you don’t have something going on the side, you’ll starve!”, said one source.
But wait. Prison inmates can purchase additional food from a canteen, although why they should have to do that just to supplement a poor diet is grounds for argument.
Hold it! Buying food from the canteen takes money. We’ll get to that next time.