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Calls for Action After Reports of Inedible Food at Virginia Prison

by Elizabeth Weill-Greenberg

Politicians are demanding greater oversight over the Virginia Department of Corrections, following The Appeal’s report that women at one state prison say they’re served moldy and spoiled food.

“We should not be treating people that are incarcerated differently when it comes to consumption of food,” Delegate Patrick Hope, a Democrat, told The Appeal.

Hope says specialists with the state health department should conduct inspections of prison kitchen and dining facilities. Currently, those inspections are conducted by Department of Corrections staff. Earlier this year, Hope sponsored a bill to create an official ombudsman and oversight body to monitor conditions inside the state’s prisons. The bill did not make it out of committee.

“There’s no oversight, there’s no transparency, no accountability to the Department of Corrections outside of themselves,” said Hope. “They govern themselves, they police themselves, and they think everything’s running smoothly.”

Women incarcerated at the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women (FCCW) have told The Appeal that they’ve found bugs in their food and on their trays, that portions are “toddler-size,” and that they’re served food that is inedible.

In the wake of The Appeal’s story on those allegations, Jay Jones, a former state delegate who previously sought the Democratic nomination for attorney general, called on Virginia’s Attorney General to investigate the situation at FCCW. A spokesperson for the Attorney General’s office told The Appeal in an email that they cannot comment due to pending litigation.

“Just because you’re incarcerated does not mean that you should be subjected to inhumane conditions and not be afforded the basic sort of comforts of being a member of our society like food and shelter,” Jones told The Appeal in a phone interview this month.

More than 25,000 people are currently confined in Virginia’s prisons, about a five percent increase from last year’s population. Although the Virginia Department of Corrections is one of the state’s largest agencies, the department tends to operate by its own rules, said Hope.

Department of Health inspections of correctional facilities would provide the type of independent oversight that’s missing from Virginia prisons, according to Hope. The department of health inspects thousands of establishments across the state—including some local jailsand publishes a publicly accessible database of reports, but no such database exists for inspections conducted by the department of corrections. A facility inspected by the state health department may be subject to civil penalties for repeated violations, as noted on their inspection reports.

In July, The Appeal filed a public records request with the Department of Corrections for kitchen, food preparation, and food inspection reports for FCCW for this year. The department responded with a June “dietician’s report on food service,” along with a menu for each month. A dietician employed by the Department of Corrections found the prison in compliance with each assessment area, including whether proper serving utensils were used, whether salt, pepper, and sweetener were offered, and whether temperature control sheets had been properly filled out.

“Full portions observed on sample trays,” the dietician wrote. “Variety of fresh fruits and vegetables on all meal services.”

In response to questions about continued allegations of inedible food and the possibility of external oversight, a Virginia Department of Corrections spokesperson wrote in an email to The Appeal that the department “does not engage speculation and hyperbole.”

Still, women incarcerated at FCCW maintain that they continue to receive substandard food at mealtime. Stephanie Angelo wrote to The Appeal in July that they had “been getting rotten black slimey [sic] potatoes.” Recently for dinner, she said they received just “one piece of broccoli for the vegetable serving and the other day was one single slice of squash.” Last week, Angelo said they were given moldy hamburger buns.

This month, Shebri Dillon, who’s incarcerated at FCCW, wrote to The Appeal that they were “still getting molded food, rotten oranges, etc. and small portion sizes.” Dillon supported Hope’s idea to make the state health department responsible for conducting inspections of prison food service facilities.

“Historically, power that goes unchecked becomes abusive,” she wrote. “Even though we are just talking the kitchen here, it is power as it weaponizes the food. I think having outside oversight can be a game changer.”


 

In the news

 

In 2015, Trent Bouhdida was sentenced to 16 years for selling an ounce of marijuana to an undercover police officer. Last week, the Arizona Board of Executive Clemency—which is stacked with former cops and prosecutors—denied his clemency petition. Marijuana was legalized in Arizona in 2020. [Katya Schwenk / Phoenix New Times]

For more than a year, journalist Indigo Olivier investigated the enmeshed relationships between weapons manufacturers, like Lockheed Martin, and universities. “Many college STEM programs around the country have become pipelines for weapons contractors,” Olivier wrote. [Indigo Olivier / In These Times]

New Mexico state Sen. Jacob Candelaria sued the New Mexico Department of Corrections for withholding records on its decision to hire a company to photocopy prisoners’ mail and provide them copies, not the originals, of their letters. [Dan McKay / Albuquerque Journal]

In Siskiyou County, California a lawsuit alleges that the sheriff has conspired to “drive a disfavored racial minority from the County.” Asians make up only 2.4 percent of the county’s adult population—yet they accounted for over 28 percent of Sheriff’s Department traffic stops in 2021, according to the complaint. [Sakshi Venkatraman / NBC News]

When people in crisis contact the newly launched 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, law enforcement may be called in some circumstances, the hotline’s executive director told NPR’s Aneri. [Aneri Pattani / NPR]

A Utah judge ruled that internal police interview records (known as a Garrity interview) from a 2018 police shooting should be made public. Four years ago, West Jordan police officers shot and killed 23-year-old Michael Glad. Now, the truth behind the killing may finally come to light. [Paighten Harkins / The Salt Lake Tribune]


ICYMI — from The Appeal

In a report last week, a federal monitor issued a damning condemnation of substandard healthcare in Illinois prisons. As Elizabeth Weill-Greenberg reports, the monitor reviewed 25 deaths, concluding that some were “allowed to deteriorate without intervention.”


That’s all for this week. As always, feel free to leave us some feedback, and if you want to invest in the future of The Appeal, please donate here.

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