Fitzgerald cosponsors bill to study health standards for incarcerated

HARRISBURG, Feb. 7 – State Rep. Isabella Fitzgerald, D-Phila., has co-sponsored a bill that would require a study to be conducted on the nutrition and health practices of the state’s correctional facilities.

The legislation, part of a list of prison reform bills, would require the Joint State Government Commission to study the nutritional value of the food and the health conditions of those incarcerated. The commission would examine everything from sources of vitamins and minerals provided with each meal to the number of calories provided over the course of three meals per day. Also, the commission would study the medical and physical health of incarcerated individuals, as well as the prevalence of illness and disease.

“In order for our state correctional institutions to work, they must be able to rehabilitate those individuals who have the propensity to be rehabilitated,” Fitzgerald said. “That rehabilitation should include the mind and body. Most individuals committing crimes have either experienced crime or violence in their own lives or some sort of disenfranchisement, so to merely lock folks up without a true intention of helping them set out on the right path after they paid their debt, doesn’t seem like a system that is working or truly rehabilitative. And we know, unfortunately right now, this is the case.”

More than 40,000 people are housed in state correctional institutions (SCI) and rely on those facilities for their nutrition as well as health and wellness. They have a higher prevalence of chronic health conditions, such as diabetes and high blood pressure compared to the general population. Although some standards are in place to provide nutritional food, until recently the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections was using poor quality food as a form of punishment. 

“To think that meals are used to ‘correct’ behaviors in 2022 is abhorrent and sickening,” Fitzgerald said. “This is a time-old, abusive method that needs to be discontinued. It is inhumane and criminal. Once we are able to get a true reading on nutritional value of the foods being prepared in these facilities, we will be able to better set forth guidelines on day-to-day nutrition and wellness plans and hopefully see a better, more rehabilitated population leaving these institutions once they have paid their just debt.”

“These are civil rights that have been overlooked for far too long, and this legislation will go a long way in correcting these intentional oversights.”