Another bad idea from the lone star state: only serving prisoners two meals a day on weekends

It’s one bad idea after another coming from the state of Texas over the past few years:

First its governor said that Texas had the legal right to secede from the United States and might do it under certain conditions.

Then the state school board mandated inaccuracies be inserted into history texts for school children.

Along the way, various local municipalities have voted to build pleasure palaces of $30 million or more for their high school football teams, while the lone star state ranks 44th among the 50 states on spending per child on education.

And we can’t forget that Texas leads the states in the barbaric custom of executing prisoners. The other 35 states which have the death penalty have killed 789 men since 1976 (an average of 22.5 per state), whereas Texas all by its lonesome star self has killed 472.

The latest bad idea arising from Texas is not feeding its prisoners.  The New York Times reported this morning that since April, Texas has stopped serving lunch on weekends to about 23,000 prisoners in 36 state penitentiaries.  Prisoners in these prisons now have to go without lunch two days a week. 

The action is only part of efforts to save $2.8 million in food-related state prison expenses; these efforts also include ending the practice of letting prisoners about to undergo state assassination select their final meal. 

While some of the cost savings comes from not having to staff two meals a week, the article suggests the only way for this move to save money is if the prisoners get less food.  The article reports that prisoners with money have been purchasing food from the commissary, but low-income prisoners don’t have this option and are going hungry.

We start with the humanistic concept shared by most citizens: I believe that every living human being deserves to be free of hunger or food anxiety.  One goal of government policy should be to ensure that everyone has access to three squares a day, including the most wretched and disreputable of our lot.  We shouldn’t lavish prisoners, to be sure, but we should not exclude them from the human species by treating them inhumanely.

Moreover, consider the fact that there are more than 16,000 people incarcerated in Texas jails for drug possession—not selling, but simply for having drugs.  Now not all of these prisoners are among the 23,000 who have to fend for themselves two meals a week, but some and perhaps many are.  There is no question in my mind that two days per week of reduced calorie intake constitutes “cruel and unusual punishment” for those unlucky souls caught holding a bag of pot or a toot of coke.

A standard analogy in public discussions of issues is to say that an action takes the first step in a slippery slope towards some universally recognized evil.  The slippery slope in the case of the move to reduce the calorie intake of Texas prisoners leads to the Nazi concentration camp and ghetto food regime that measured exactly the amount of calories to keep people from starving to death immediately; about 250 calories per day in the case of the Warsaw ghetto.

That $2.8 million in savings that Texas hopes to achieve by cutting a food budget that was certainly already skimpy is only two-thousandths of one percent of the proposed Texas state budget, and a little less than one-hundredth of a one percent of the proposed cuts to last year’s state budget.  This $2.8 million is approximately 11 cents a year for every resident of Texas, and remember that skipping the meals is only part of the cost-savings.  If I lived in Texas I would willingly give 11 pennies a year to make sure that my state was treating prisoners in a humane fashion. 


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