In the Media

Prisoners are revolting: inmates' anger at watery custard

PUBLISHED November 6, 2012

Inmates have voiced their discontent about the meals served in British prisons, claiming cuts to Ministry of Justice budgets have left them with inedible food and they are being treated with "contempt" by chefs.

Portions are too small, the ingredients are too cheap and large amounts being thrown away as prisoners refuse to eat, they say in a series of letters published in Inside Time, the prison newspaper, this month.

Thomas Carroll, a prisoner at HMP Parc in Brigend, Wales complained that the standards have deteriorated to "basically unacceptable" levels since he was jailed two and a half years ago.

"I must say that the quality as well as the quantity of the food has seriously deteriorated since my arrival."

"An example is the custard being watered down to an unbelievable level, sometimes by wing staff themselves who are legally not allowed to alter foodstuffs."

He went on: "Apples are so small and withered they are tasteless, pears so hard they are unfit for human consumption. The sandwiches we now receive in place of a cooked meal are not buttered and an obvious indication of the supplier's contempt for prisoners at this establishment.

He continued: "And the chef's choice of potatoes and salad - what a combination of cheap foods on one plate. I seem to recall that as a child we fed this sort of stuff to the pigs. Shame on them!"

Mr Carroll is serving seven years after pleading guilty to running a £1m-a-year prostitution ring.

Robert Whelan, a prisoner at HMP Leeds said, he has been "unfortunate" enough to be jailed in both the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. The portions and timing of meals in British prisons compared unfavourably, he said.

"In the UK after a prisoner gets his last meal of the day, at around 4.30. It can be anything from 14 to 17 hours till the next meal and this meal consists of 40 grams of cereal.

"How is a grown adult supposed to get by like this? There cannot be enough calories in this to sustain an adult."

By comparison, as an inmate in Dublin he was fed four times a day, he said.

He added: "It amazes me that the UK is classed as one of the most developed countries in the modern world! The Republic of Ireland has been going through a recession for longer than the UK but at least they don't try to save money by starving their prisoners."

Another said the quality of marmelade provided at HMP Norwich, a category B prison housing 760 inmates, was so poor the preserve was often left uneaten by inmates.

"In these times of fiscal austerity shouldn't we alert those who control the purse strings that the orange spread sachets that come in our breakfast packs are nothing more than bin-fillers?" wrote prisoner Damien Smart.

"If, for example, there are 90 prisoners on a wing and the day after the spread is issued the prison finds 180 spread sachets returned then it would become abundantly clear that buying and distributing this orange goo is a futile and money-wasting exercise."

An inmate at HMP Wealstun, a category C prison in West Yorkshire, claimed that staff were enjoying fine cuisine while prisoners' meal budgets were cut.

"I feel the food here is so cheap and some of it tastes so bad it needs to be checked out. When we complain about the food they point out that they are on a very slim budget," wrote Carl Greenwood.

"But it seems to be a different matter when they cater for official visitors. I have heard that they spent £800 on steaks for prison inspectors and officers in July and August."

Meanwhile J Elliott, who claimed to have served time in segregation for rioting while in prison, said the food in HMP Lindholme, Doncaster, was the worst of any of the 17 prisons he had been held in.

"I have been in 17 prisons and I can honestly say that the food here comes top of the list for being the worst. I have seen people becoming ill through eating it and I would say that 50 per cent of the food ends up in the dustbin every day.

"It is truly appalling, and this is coming from a man who will eat almost anything."

The Ministry of Justice has been ordered to cut its £9bn-a-year budget by 25 per cent.

Earlier this year Gordon Ramsay, the television chef, criticised the level of comfort provided in Britain's prisons after teaching inmates to cook for his television series.

On visiting London's Brixton prison, he discovered criminals were given five meal choices every night.

He said: "What I wasn't prepared for was how easy it was for them in there. I was astounded at the comfort zone they carve out for themselves."