Justice

Why Ramen Is Now More Popular Than Cigarettes in U.S. Prisons

Any casual viewer of "Orange is the New Black" will tell you that prison isn't known for having good food, but a new study by Michael Gibson-Light of University of Arizona’s school of sociology reveals that the reality is even worse than fiction. 

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According to his research, Ramen is now the most popular traded item in U.S. prisons — even more than cigarettes. "Soup is money in here," one prisoner said in the report, according to The Guardian. "It’s sad but true."

Why?

Prisons are cutting costs at the expense of the inmates

In order to save money, prison facilities are drastically cutting budgets, resulting in poor conditions.

Gibson-Light, who interviewed 60 inmates at one unnamed state prison, discovered that cost-cutting resulted in the prisoners' meal schedule being reduced from "three hot meals a day to two hot meals and one cold lunch during the week" and a mere "two meals for the whole day on the weekend." Ramen, which is easy to prepare and is higher in calories than other snack foods, has become the must-have item to supplement the meager diet of inmates.

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Prisons (and jails) will take extreme measures to reduce costs

Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona made a drastic move in 2013 when he introduced a soy-based, all-vegetarian menu to MCSO Jail. Arpaio didn't make this change for the prisoner's health. He did it because, as he told a Fox 10 news reporter, "We'll save $100,000 just for this change." 

A few months later, inmates went on a hunger strike, an Arizona ABC affiliate reported. Arpaio was not impressed, saying, "They ought to shut up and eat what they have. They happen to be in jail and I happen to be the sheriff and I'm the chief chef, too. I decide what they eat."

Budgets are being cut but the prison population stays the same

And that's a problem. When prison budgets are cut, prison reform is threatened, according to The Washington Times, who reported in 2015 that there were too many inmates at St. Clair Correctional Facility and not enough officers to watch them.

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"State prisons that now hold nearly twice the number of inmates they were originally designed to hold," the Times reports. Alabama Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn says "a 5 percent funding cut to the department would jump crowding from 185 percent to 213 percent of capacity."

With more inmates but less money, it makes sense that ramen would reign.

[h/t The Guardian]

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