Imagine, for a moment, you are have been convicted of a significant crime and sentenced to prison. As a prisoner, you have a 45 to 64 percent chance of showing signs of a serious mental illness.1 There is also a good chance that this is not your first time behind bars.2 Your cell may even feel like home to you.3
You may have difficulty behaving and obeying the prison’s rules. You would not be the only one.4 If you act out once, you might lose your recreational privileges.5 Act out again and your keepers may put you in solitary confinement.6 A prison may have quite a long list of little luxuries it can take away from you. But what can a prison do when it has taken away everything that can be taken away from you, save for the necessities, and you still misbehave? If you are unlucky enough to be confined in certain jurisdictions, you just might have a date with the dreaded loaf.7
Nutraloaf, also known variously as “confinement loaf,”8 “meal loaf,”9 “prison loaf,”10 “special management meal,”11 “Nutri-loaf”,12 or simply “the loaf,”13 is a food served in some prisons.14 According to some critics it is literally a recipe for punishment.15 Prisoners have compared it to dog food and have claimed it to be inedible.16 It has been the subject of lawsuits in Illinois,17 Maryland,18Nebraska,19 New York,20 Oregon,21 Pennsylvania,22Washington,23 West Virginia,24 and Vermont.25 It has also been served in California,26 Florida,27Michigan,28 Missouri,29 Montana,30 and Texas.31
Around the country, Nutraloaf is the subject of prisoners’ lawsuits with “some regularity.”32 The arguments usually focus on the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, or the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments’ due-process implication that the employment of Nutraloaf should be accompanied by some sort of hearings.33
Nutraloaf has been called an effective tool for behavior management,34 and it has been called the twenty-first century version of bread and water.35 A human can survive with it – but can the Constitution?
This Note evaluates the use of Nutraloaf under both the cruel and unusual punishment clause and the due process clauses of the United States Constitution. Part II describes Nutraloaf in detail and sets it in the wider landscape of prison food issues. Part III analyses the argument that Nutraloaf may qualify as a form of cruel and unusual punishment. Part IV analyses the argument that the policies of some prisons that use Nutraloaf violate the guarantee of due process. Finally, Part V summarizes these analyses and concludes that it is possible to serve Nutraloaf to prisoners without violating their fundamental rights under the conditions that the recipe provides adequate nourishment, that it is not used for an excessive amount of time on a particular prisoner, that it is used only in response to food-related misbehavior, that the recipe is not intentionally repulsive, and that the prisoners facing Nutraloaf receive a meaningful amount of due process.