To lower prison health-care costs, Mary­land is try­ing some­thing new: serv­ing health­ier food

StarMetro Calgary - - THE KIT - Mered­ith Cohn

ot long af­ter taking over as war­den of the Mary­land Cor­rec­tional In­sti­tu­tion for Women in Jes­sup, Md., Mar­garet M. Chip­pen­dale no­ticed a siz­able prob­lem: women were leav­ing the sys­tem a lot heav­ier than when they ar­rived.

She made an easy con­nec­tion in the din­ing hall. The women were be­ing served the same food as male pris­on­ers, a 3,200-calo­rie menu filled with carbs, such as three slices of white bread at a meal.

“Women here al­ready have a num­ber of health is­sues,” Chip­pen­dale said. “This wasn’t help­ing.”

In an ef­fort to stem the weight gains, and im­prove chronic health con­di­tions such as heart dis­ease and di­a­betes that dis­pro­por­tion­ately af­fect those in­car­cer­ated, she worked with a di­eti­tian to re­tool the of­fer­ings and slowly cut about 1,000 calo­ries a day from the meals.

About three years af­ter the ef­fort be­gan, the prison has re­placed the white bread with wheat and gives out less. It has added items such as fish, fresh fruits and veg­eta­bles, as well as cot­tage cheese and yo­gurt full of the cal­cium the ag­ing fe­male pop­u­la­tion needs. It serves drinks with less sugar.

Chip­pen­dale said she even­tu­ally ex­pects to show sav­ings on health-care costs, in­clud­ing med­i­ca­tions, the big­gest Con­tinue read­ing at thes­

part of her bud­get. The di­eti­tian is now talk­ing up the changes to other cor­rec­tional in­sti­tu­tions in the state.

The women in Jes­sup, who have had a say in the new menus, re­port greater sat­is­fac­tion. More are com­ing to the din­ing hall rather than eat­ing food they buy in the com­mis­sary. They say that has im­proved morale in the prison, which could trans­late into fewer squab­bles and height­ened safety.

Jer­mel Cham­bers, a 54year-old in­car­cer­ated since 2000, said she’s been through a lot of menu changes, mostly so bad that women were avoid­ing the din­ing hall and eat­ing only un­healthy food they bought in the com­mis­sary. But now al­most ev­ery­one comes to­gether for meals.

“There’s some­one who has been here for 35 years,” she said, “and when she comes to lunch, you know there’s been a change.”

The women also say it could im­prove the health of their fam­i­lies, if they bring the lessons learned about nu­tri­tion home with them when they are re­leased.

“We couldn’t have done this with­out in­put from them,” Chip­pen­dale said of the in­mates. “We needed buyin .... We’ll prob­a­bly con­tinue to tweak the menu for­ever.”

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