Many Oklahoma mothers went to sleep last night worrying if their son or daughter had enough to eat earlier in the day. This is a real, constant worry for many Oklahoman parents. Proper nutrition is imperative for complete brain development in adolescent youth and young adults. The brain is still developing cognitively up to the age of 25. Parents usually want nothing but the best for their kids, and fresh fruits and vegetables being available to them should not be an obstacle to overcome for parents raising their kids right. It is obvious that malnutrition is bad. This mindset should also extend to the youth locked up in Oklahoma’s prisons. Oklahoma’s prison food is unhealthy and leads to long-term health effects that Oklahoma taxpayers will end up paying for.
Malnutrition of Oklahoma’s youth between the ages of 15-24 has become an epidemic in certain settings. This means that soon-to-be Oklahoman adults could not have the proper brain development to function in society as we all expect them to. The only way to fix this problem is to make Oklahomans aware of the truth that is usually swept under the rug. Currently, in Oklahoma’s prison population, these kids are listed as inmates, and the epidemic of Oklahoma’s prison nutrition programs is ongoing. Given the upcoming elections in 2022, Oklahoma voters need to go to the polls educated and ready to fight for Oklahoma kids.
Effects on Starving Adolescence
Oklahoma’s children are being affected by malnutrition at alarming rates. Malnutrition affects Oklahoma’s offenders reoffending rates negatively. In 2012 it was reported that more than 26,000 Oklahoma children have a parent in an Oklahoma prison, but more heartbreaking, Oklahoma was also reported to be the second highest state to lock up minors in 2016 by “Okpolicy.org.” It is an epidemic in Oklahoma to keep the revolving door to prisons open to our kids and families. Last updated Oklahoma prison statics, on Saturday, the 23rd day of September 2017, on Oklahoma’s state website, “State of Oklahoma Department of Corrections,” reported 16 inmates in Oklahoma prisons are under the age of 18. 2,198 inmates from the ages of 18-21 and 9,946 inmates from the ages of 22-25 are currently locked up in an Oklahoma private prison. That is a total of 12,160 developing brains being fed by Oklahoma’s private prison food programs while being incarcerated. As shown below in figure 1, Oklahoma’s population is steadily climbing, and these kids are part of that growing number. Malnutrition affects the revocation rate negatively in Oklahoma inmates. Those kids make up part of the 62% of Oklahoma offenders who are nonviolent/non-sexual offenders. This large adolescent population becomes part of Oklahoma’s revolving door of reoffending inmates. These are Oklahoma kids that have Oklahoma mothers going to bed nightly worried if their child had enough to eat. Billy Dixon, better known as the rapper Bimm AKA Maniack spoke briefly about malnutrition in the penal system on the podcast “What’s up With Nic Wit It.” Nutrition is imperative to a child’s brain growth, and I never understood why food is never in the thought process when incarcerating our youth at massive rates”.
It has been proven that Malnutrition contributes to developmental delays and weight loss. A study was done in Canada on children, “Assessing the Long-Term Effects on Biological & Health Effects of Malnutrition and Hunger.” The researchers found out that “insufficient calorie intake, minimal protein & fat, and limited access to fresh fruits and vegetables impacted the children’s development negatively.” Many illnesses are caused by not eating properly, and having fresh fruits and vegetables is necessary for these kids to develop brains that make decisions properly. Inadequate intake of protein and other nutrients causes short-term and long-term health effects. Institutionalized children are more likely to experience several micronutrient deficiencies. Malnourishment also compromises an adolescent’s immune system. Some Oklahoma intuitions have poor sanitary conditions, and these two factors together could cause a storm of long-term health problems that Oklahoma taxpayers will be footing the bill for. Vitamin A, Iron, and Zinc are needed for maintaining a good immune system, and those nutrients are rarely found in the outdated, processed food served in Oklahoma prisons. Another fact is that deficiencies in one nutrient led to deficiencies in other nutrients. This creates a domino effect, usually ending up leaving a young adult or adolescent youth with cognitive delays such as ADD, decreased IQ scores, reduced problem-solving abilities, and reduced social skills. These factors create a higher risk for these inmates to re-offend once back in society, a lot of times instantly.
Cost VS Savings
Oklahoma pays approximately 28,652 per inmate, reported by “The Oklahoma Department of Corrections,” to keep Oklahoma kids locked up and underfed. Only 2 dollars and 55 cents of that money daily go to feed those inmates. That’s 930.00 dollars a year; approximately that goes to feeding an Oklahoma inmate. That seems to be a very small budget for a very important aspect of proper brain development. With the long-term health effects and reoffending rate in Oklahoma, taxpayers would save an enormous amount of money implementing self-sufficiency programs for inmates to raise their cattle and fresh fruits and vegetables. 90% of Oklahoma prisons have more than enough acres of land available already for use to put these programs in place. This would save Oklahoma money, teach inmates skills that could land them a job outside the walls, or give them the ability to live off the land. The whole purpose of prison is to rehabilitate, not cause brain damage due to poor nutrition while incarcerated. A small investment into the people of Oklahoma and their self-sufficiency would change two very important factors in inmates reoffending rates, Job skills and Proper nutrition during critical brain development.
Cost and savings are just one huge positive impact reforming the Oklahomans prison food problem will have. These kids will be adults one day. Walking next to Oklahomans on the streets. Would Oklahoma rather have young adults whose brains developed properly or reoffending criminals that put people in fear? A lot of Oklahoma claims that prisoners already get fed better than our Army soldiers deployed in the war. That is a very untrue assumption. I interviewed a soldier born and bred in Lawton, Oklahoma. He did his basic training at Fort. Sill army base in Oklahoma and did a tour in Desert Storms. Mr. Scott Cates, retired from the U.S. Army, has had experience with both Oklahoma’s jail food and food served while being deployed. Scott describes food out in the field of war as “It is what you make of it. We have plenty of food and nutritious, fresh options to eat while at war. The only difference is we may be eating in a hole we dug for protection in war, and inmates are in an eight by 10inc cell eating theirs.” Scott goes on to describe Oklahoma’s jail food. He stated, “Ya know, you treat a human like a beast, and they will end up acting like a beast normally if done long enough. Most Oklahoma prisoners are treated like beasts in a cage, fed slop that you would feed to a beast. Oklahoma feeds their inmates demeaning, non-nutritional food. Food is the basis of feeling good. Its basic cause and effect law.” After hearing Mr. Cates’s experiences, the only conclusion I can come to is that Oklahoma inmates are not fed better than soldiers nor treated better.
There are other farming options to create Job resources and on-the-job training in Oklahoma, such as hemp farming.
Former Oklahoma Senator Connie Johnson had hempcrete and hemp farming for Oklahomans as one of her fore fronts running platforms for the 2022 Oklahoma Gubitornial race but did not make it past the primaries. There has been no mention of hemp or hemp farming by any of the Oklahoma gubernatorial candidates thus far. With the 2022 Gubutorional election coming up in November, it will be interesting to see if any of the parties’ candidates will address hemp or the Department of Corrections in their upcoming debates. Hemp farming was prevalent in the 17 & the 1800s, providing material for products such as paper and ropes but also served as feed for livestock as well. Hemp farming for non-profit in Oklahoma prison farms could be a viable option for nutrition sustainability for Oklahomans doing time in an Oklahoma prison cell.
Oklahoma has a long history of mass incarceration. Nutrition seems to never be in the planning of restructuring the judicial system when it comes to Oklahoma’s Juvenal incarcerated population. With the 2022 elections coming up in a few months running candidates in the upcoming political battle will have to tackle tough subjects like juvenile incarceration. Will nutrition be a topic of discussion within the upcoming debates? Or will nutrition within Oklahoma’s penal system be another conversation never had?
Amberly Taylor is a 35yr old human rights activist. She volunteers for various non profits Like FreedomGrowForever.org and stands FIRM on SUPPORTING BLM and Civil Rights Movements