By Wasseneh Taddesse
Nutraloaf is a dog-food type substance fed to prisoners on segregation status, generally to those who have committed some additional infraction while on that status. As with all repressive measures, the practice has been abused by those who hold power over others. A struggle has resulted that is just now getting the attention of the federal courts. Here we will review of few of the recent rulings handed down on the feeding of nutraloaf to segregation prisoners.
The first and one of the better decisions on the nutraloaf issue is LeMaire v. Maass, 745 F.Supp. 623 (D.Ore. 1990), in which the court held that both the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment and the Fourteenth Amendment's due process clause were violated when guards at the Oregon State Penitentiary placed inmates on controlled feeding status (nutraloaf) for conduct not directly related to the misuse of food or utensils. Nutraloaf, which is made from blending, freezing and later baking foods used in meals, is designed to be eaten without utensils (it is served in a block). The court upheld the use of "controlled feeding" at least by implication, in cases where segregation prisoners throw human waste on guards or misuse food or utensils.
The second and by far the least favorable decision was that in Adams v. Kincheloe, 743 F.Suppl. 1399 (E.D.WA 1990), [Ed. note: the Adams case was decided on a summary judgment motion where the prisoner plaintiff did not respond at all nor present any evidence to rebut or contradict the states motion.] wherein the court held that the feeding of nutraloaf under the facts in that case did not constitute cruel or unusual punishment or violate due process of law. The court even upheld the manner in which the nutraloaf was served to the prisoner (guards tossing the lump of stuff through the tray slot in the door and onto the floor of the cell).
The last ruling is an unpublished opinion by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. It is Gilcrist v. Washington Corrections Center, CA Case No. 88-3869, in which the court held that a provision of Washington state's administrative code, WAC 137-28-110, which says that " [l]owering the quantity of the quality of food...shall not be used as a sanction," may give rise to a liberty interest cognizable under the due process clause. It was held, inter alia, that the use of food (nutraloaf) as a form of punishment states a claim upon which relief can be granted. Unfortunately, court rules prohibit anyone from citing unpublished decisions as precendential authority. This renders the holding in Gilcrist useless to those challenging the use of nutraloaf.
While the struggle around the state's feeding of nutraloaf is a continuing one, there are enough rulings around the issue to see where the dust is most likely
to settle. One can reasonably assume that nutraloaf cannot be fed to segregation prisoners unless such prisoner has at least been accused of misusing food or utensils or throwing substances onto guards. Once the nutraloaf is being fed to a prisoner, it is reasonable to argue, it must be served in a reasonable manner (not merely tossed on the floor of his cell). While this may sound like a basic minimum, there is much fight remaining even to secure this small gain.
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