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Cruel and unusual? One lawmaker wants to ban mystery loaf in Missouri prisons

By Kurt Erickson

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    JEFFERSON CITY, Missouri (St. Louis Post-Dispatch) — When inmates in Missouri’s prisons pose a security threat, they sometimes are served a loaf-like concoction that one state lawmaker says she wouldn’t feed to a dog.

Food or Punishment Nutraloaf, a product from the cafeteria of the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility, is presented by an inmate in South Burlington, Vt., on Friday, March 21, 2008.

Although state prison officials say they have no plans to stop serving “nutraloaf” to certain unruly inmates, Rep. Kimberly-Ann Collins, D-St. Louis, has introduced legislation banning the substance from the Department of Corrections’ culinary roster.

“I think the Department of Corrections should come up with something else. It’s disgusting,” Collins said Tuesday.

The use of so-called “prison loaf” to deal with behavioral problems has been an issue nationally, with some states banning it as cruel and unusual punishment.

Others, like Missouri, are still cooking it up on occasion.

Typically, the loaf is comprised of a variety of ingredients mixed together, baked in a loaf and served without utensils.

The recipes vary by state. According to court records, Illinois’ version calls for a small amount of ground beef mixed with beans, tomato paste, carrots, and binding agents such as potato flakes, dry grits or rolled oats.

Collins said Missouri’s version can also include fruit juice and other ingredients, resulting in a mushy gruel-like substance.

“I think it’s inhumane to serve people something like that,” Collins said. “That’s like feeding somebody uncooked meatloaf.”

Her proposal would prohibit the use of the loaf as a disciplinary tool.

But Karen Pojmann, communications director with the Missouri Department of Corrections, said the loaf is not meant as punishment. Rather, it is used in response to unsafe behavior by an inmate.

“We don’t serve meal loaves in response to disciplinary issues,” Pojmann said. “They would be served only in cases of extreme safety concerns, such as a situation in which an offender is using utensils, food trays, etc., as weapons for self-harm or violence against others.”

Pojmann also said she’s not aware how often the meals are served in the state’s 20 prisons.

“I don’t think we have a system in place for tracking meal loaf servings,” she said.

In a 2011 decision, the American Correctional Association said alternative meal service like meal loaf should be based only on health or safety considerations, meet basic nutritional requirements and be used for no more than seven days in a row.

Some states, like New York and Pennsylvania, have ended the practice amid legal challenges from groups like the American Civil Liberties Union.

Collins has made prison-related issues a significant part of her legislative career, which started when she was elected to represent the 77th House District in 2019.

Since she was elected she has been making unannounced visits to DOC facilities across the state to check on conditions and hear prisoners’ stories.

Collins, whose father died in prison in 2007, has said conditions are “deplorable” and urged lawmakers to create a 10-member DOC oversight committee. The group would be charged with investigating complaints and collecting data on prisoner deaths, suicides and assaults, among other things.

“I just feel like oversight is needed,” Collins said. “I catch a lot of things that shouldn’t be happening.”

In March, during debate in the Capitol over the launch of a prison nursery program, Collins said her biological mother conceived her in prison, resulting in her ending up in foster care.

In addition, her older brother, John Collins-Muhammad, was among three former members of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen who were sentenced to federal prison earlier this month for accepting bribes from a businessman.

Rather than serving offenders the loaf-like substance, Collins said prison officials should instead turn their attention to resolving what is causing them to act out.

“They are already punished by being in prison,” she said. “What are the underlying issues that are causing people to do this?”

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