Tuesday, December 5, 2023

If an inmate has a strict diet, do the jails accommodate their request?

VPRJ policy does not allow photos to be taken of inmates’ faces without written permission. (WYDaily/Sarah Fearing)

There are three jails on the Peninsula that houses hundreds of inmates, each with their own unique qualities.

And diets, too.

So how do the jails accommodate people with diabetes or those who avoid certain food groups for religious reasons?

While the Virginia Peninsula Regional Jail, the Newport News Jail and the Hampton City Jail handle physical ailments similarly, when it comes to accommodating requests for religious purposes, such as meal times, it depends on the jail.

The Virginia Peninsula Regional Jail uses national standards to calculate calorie intake — each year there is an annual review of their food menu, which is signed off by a dietitian. In addition, the jail serves inmates specialized meals such as low-sodium diets, double portions for pregnant inmates and religious diets, said Lt. Col. Roy Witham, assistant superintendent at the jail.

“If the doctors order it, we provide it,” Witham said.

For people of Jewish faith, the jail offers pre-packaged kosher food, which the inmate can then heat up and handle themselves, Witham said.

What about people who fast for religious obligations, traditions or cultural reasons? Food allergies?

The jail accommodates. In fact, before being admitted to jail, inmates undergo physical exams if he or she is allergic to something, needs an adjustment to their diet or other reasons.

More than 25 inmates at VPRJ celebrated Ramadan last week and the jail adjusted the “meal delivery” to accommodate the religious practice.

“Food service is critical to our success,” Witham said. “These folks are incarcerated and they are entitled to a good meal.”

Similar to VPRJ, inmates at the Hampton City Jail can request a religious diet menu which is approved by the jail’s dietitian. The menu is geared to those who would like a substitute, such as vegetarian or pork, said Lt. Brandy White, spokeswoman for the jail.

“We do accommodate that religious diet,” White said in regards to Ramadan, which involves periods of fasting between meals, from sunrise to sundown. White noted inmates who fast during the day can eat at later times, outside of scheduled meal times.

Generally, if an inmate requests a religious diet, it is approved, White noted, and if someone needs a diet related to physical ailments, they can speak with the jail’s physician.

It’s unclear whether the jail offers kosher food to inmates.

In Newport News, dietary restrictions for medical reasons must be ordered by the jail physician and there is a catch all for handling religious requests: No pork.

“We do not offer religious diets,” Col. Eileen Sprinkle, chief deputy for the Newport News Sheriff’s Office, wrote in an email. “No pork is ever served so that satisfies most of the normal religious requests.”

For inmates who wish to fast, the jail will not serve them food other than the designated meal times.

“We average over 500 inmates,” Spinkle noted. “We cannot possibly adjust with each inmates individual request. If they choose to fast that is of their own free will.”

Julia Marsigliano
Julia Marsiglianohttp://wydaily.com
Julia Marsigliano is a multimedia reporter for WYDaily. She covers everything on the Peninsula from local government and law enforcement agencies to family-run businesses and weather updates. Before WYDaily, she covered Hampton and Newport News for WYDaily’s sister publication, HNNDaily before both publications merged in December 2018. Julia was born in Tokyo, Japan and moved to Long Island, New York in 2001. A true New Yorker, she loves pizza, bagels and good Chinese food. Send comments, tips and other tidbits to julia@localvoicemedia.com. You can follow her on Twitter at @jmarsigliano

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