Nutrition for Inmates

Kitchen - Nutrition for Inmates

The Federal Bureau of Prisons manages approximately 207,000 inmates across 122 institutions and will serve an estimated 227 million meals during the year. That's a lot of individuals to feed, and nutritional management of the prison population isn't taken lightly. In fact, the Health Services division assistant director, who is also a physician and BOP's medical director, provides oversight of the program.

RDNs Working to Keep America's Inmates Healthy

"One of [the BOP's] specific missions is to provide healthy, nutritionally-sound and appetizing meals that meet the needs of the general population and those at nutritional risk," says CDR Mitchel Holliday, MS, MSEd, RDN, CDE, FAND, BOP's chief dietitian and commissioned officer within the United States Public Health Service.

To help meet this mission, in 2008, the BOP implemented a national menu to be served at all institutions across the agency. Standardized recipes and product specification are used for food procurement, preparation and meal service. The menu utilizes a five-week menu cycle and is offered in a self-selection format. The menu is reviewed at least annually to assess inmate eating preferences, operation impact, product pricing and nutritional content.

According to Holliday, the BOP has been able to utilize its standardized menu offerings to greatly enhance its ability to meet the nutritional needs of the prison population.

"Since its implementation, we have reduced cholesterol and saturated fat levels to those recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and sodium offering by one-third," he says. "We have also been able to develop a number of standardized medical nutrition related clinical practice guidelines for such areas as diabetes management, food allergies and post-bariatric surgery management."

To ensure the appropriate nutritional management of those at increased nutritional risk, the BOP presently employs 15 registered dietitian nutritionists — eight civil service and seven who are commissioned officers with the United States Public Health Service. According to Holliday, "Twelve of our RDNs provide clinical dietetic services at medical facilities that are Joint Commission accredited. We also have one RDN in a role as a food service administrator and one RDN within our Central Office that provides tele-nutrition for inmates with higher nutritional risk issues that are housed at facilities that do not have RDNs on staff."

While Holliday acknowledges that there is a stigma associated with those who are incarcerated, which is sometimes hard for many health-care workers to overcome, the day-to-day operations, quality of service provided and food served is not at all how many RDNs might imagine.

"The patients are some of the most appreciative I have ever worked with. The food is of good quality and nutritional standards are all evidenced-based. We provide all of our inmates' access to heart-healthy dietary options, vegetarian options, fruit and whole-grain breads," says Holliday. "As an agency, we know that serving our population a healthful diet is the right thing to do and management of inmates' health and the potential long-term prevention of nutrition-related chronic disease is the right thing for everyone."


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions of the Federal Bureau of Prisons or the Department of Justice.