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Most cynics would say, “Prisoners don’t deserve good food. They committed a crime; just keep feeding them slop because we don’t want our tax dollars going to feed those criminals!”

Unless one is familiar with a prison 120 miles northeast of Los Angeles, California, they would agree prisoners don’t deserve nutritional food and it is a waste of money.

Terry Mooreland, CEO of Maranatha Private Corrections LLC, proved this speculation wrong when he bid on a 500-inmate private prison in San Bernardino, Calif.

In 1997, when Mooreland won the bid, private prisons were a flourishing prospect especially in San Bernardino County where crime rates and returning inmates were high.

When Mooreland bid on Victor Valley Medium Community Correctional Facility in Adelanto, California, it was under the condition that if his offer was accepted, the inmates would go vegan.

At the time Mooreland took over the facility, California had a recidivism rate of 95%. During the seven years Mooreland had the inmates at Victor Valley on a vegetarian diet the recidivism rate at the prison went down to under 2%.

During the time Mooreland directed the prison the new inmates could choose if they wanted to participate in the New Start program that consisted of a vegan diet, bible studies, occupational training, and anger management.

The inmates who opted for the traditional California Department of Corrections routine continued to be fed the standard high carbohydrate starchy menu and did not have the option to participate in rehabilitative programs.

Julianne Aranda, the Victor Valley nutrition services coordinator, along with her staff maintained the philosophy that what the inmates put in their mouths affects their mental attitude and how they deal with conflict. Eating a diet of starches boggles the mind and doesn’t contribute to being cleared out to make positive changes when they are released into the real world.

Despite California’s pessimistic prediction that the 500 inmates residing at Victor Valley would probably “burn the place down before they became vegetarians,” a whopping 85% of the inmates agreed to rooming on the “vegan” side of the complex.

The outcome was incredible. The environment on the New Start side of the complex compared to the 15% that stayed with the California Department of Corrections original protocol was like night and day. The New Start side was exempt from fights and racial territory. The CDC side of the house remained the same. Racial tension and gang terrain was unchanged and so was the food; the same old sloppy grub.

The inmates on the New Start side of the fence were making better decisions because their minds were clear and their behavior changed dramatically.

Sadly, the program ended when Mooreland’s contract was cancelled because of a trivial phone revenue conflict with the State of California.

What skeptics don’t understand is that if all state prisons adopted the New Start concepts tax-payers would save money because the recidivism rate would be lowered.

Vegetarian Convictions

When Luther Hill was sent to prison in 2001, he knew there'd be some lifestyle changes. But he didn't expect his diet to be one of them. "I was surprised by the availability of better, healthier food," says Hill, 42, who is serving time in Idaho for drug possession. So he became a vegan: no animal products in his diet. Luckily for Hill, he's behind bars in Idaho, which boasts the country's most vegan-friendly state prison system, according to a new study by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which receives dozens of complaints each year from inmates about the lack of vegan prison food. PETA examined menus in every state, rating options like tofu cacciatore (Pennsylvania, No. 3) and vegetable fajitas (North Dakota, No. 10).

Vegan cuisine costs about as much as regular fare, according to multinational food provider Aramark, which serves most of PETA's favorite facilities, and it may even save taxpayers money in the long run because it can help reduce the bill for treating inmate health issues like diabetes and obesity. "In a system that encourages inmates to respect themselves, the process carries over to respecting their bodies," says George Little, Tennessee's Corrections Department commissioner. (His state's PETA rank: No. 8.)

 

Still, victims' rights groups balk at the prospect of convicts' eating better than some law abiders. "The general population isn't privy to nutritious, affordable food, while incarcerated persons are?" asks Janet Fine, director of the Office of Victim Assistance in Massachusetts, a state that, incidentally, PETA ranked No. 2 for its meatless macaroni casserole and veggie chop suey. In Idaho, Hill's fellow convicts are comfortable with his decision to go veggie. "I tell them how much better I feel and how soundly I sleep," he says. Who could have a beef with that?