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Saturday, April 17, 1993 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Is Nutra-Loaf Cruel, Unusual?

Expecting a gang of 20 for brunch? And they may be a bit on the unruly side?

The Clark County Jail has just the recipe for you.

It's called "nutra-loaf," a baked mish-mosh of meat, vegetables, potatoes, rice and breading.

Served on a paper plate with a plastic spoon, the one-dish meal is guaranteed to be simple and nutritious.

Only problem is, some inmates contend, it may also be cruel and unusual.

Wednesday, Clark County Superior Court Judge James Ladley will hold a hearing on a lawsuit by three Vancouver inmates who want the jail barred from serving the concoction.

"It's repulsive . . . it's a little punishment block, not meant to eat," lead plaintiff Tommy Lynn Lewis said in a telephone interview yesterday.

In his handwritten lawsuit, Lewis called nutra-loaf "not edible" and said serving it is an illegal "deprivation of regular feeding."

Nutra-loaf is no everyday entree. It's dished out only when inmates are particularly unruly or have used their food or utensils to make trouble, according to Chief Jail Deputy Joe Dunegan.

The meal is intended to provide the required nutrients in a form that minimizes an inmate's ability to make a mess or harm anyone.

Dunegan said Lewis, 44, was served "nutra-loaf" just once, after Lewis and his two co-plaintiffs created a disturbance in their cellblock in December.

"They pretty much trashed the place," Dunegan said.

Lewis, 44, of Vancouver is serving more than 700 days in jail for offenses including hit-and-run and driving while intoxicated, according to jail records.

He denies participating in the December disturbance. He's challenging not just nutra-loaf itself, but the way the jail decides whom to serve it to.

"If they want to nutra-loaf somebody, they should have in the rules that if you do so-and-so, you will be nutra-loafed," he said.

The lawsuit also claims the jail has no established rules for inmate behavior. Jail officials say the rules are written and posted, although they acknowledge notices are often ripped down by inmates.

Deputy Prosecutor Curt Wyrick said he's confident nutra-loaf will survive the challenge. "Nutra-loaf is not cruel and unusual punishment. It's been determined by the federal courts to be appropriate."

Clark County's recipe comes from Oregon, where the practice has already withstood a lawsuit. And a federal judge in Spokane in 1990 upheld a similar dish at the Washington State Penitentiary.

Earlier this week, Clark County Jail cooks prepared nutra-loaf for staffers at The Vancouver Columbian, and reviews were mixed.

"I thought it was just awful," said City Editor Gregg Herrington, "and I'm a guy who liked dorm food in college."

But reporter Tom Ryll asked for seconds. "As a bachelor, I've made a whole lot worse than that from leftovers," he said.

Scott Blonien, an assistant attorney general for the Washington Corrections Department, said the nutra-loaf issue has been raised in many states and courts have generally ruled it's legal if it's nutritionally sound and served as a safety measure or to modify inmate behavior.

Washington's state prisons have stopped serving nutra-loaf and now give sack lunches to unruly inmates, but Blonien said the change was made for logistical reasons, not because of legal challenges.

Judge Ladley said he expects to rely on previous federal court rulings in the Spokane case to guide his decision Wednesday. ------------------------------ CLARK COUNTY JAIL'S NUTRA-LOAF ------------------------------ Approximately 20 10-ounce servings

10 pounds of ground beef or ground chicken. 1 cup celery, sliced. 1 cup carrots, sliced. 1 cup beans (white, red, chili, baked). 1 cup cooked rice (white or brown). 1 cup of apples (cored), chopped. 1 cup of tomato product (such as diced tomatoes or salsa). 2 cup of cabbage, chopped. 2 cups of miscellaneous vegetables (corn, peas, green beans). 8 cups of oatmeal (or bread chunks or crackers). 1 dozen eggs. 1/4 cup seasoning salt. 2 cups of potatoes (mashed, or dehydrated, scalloped or fresh, diced).

1. Run everything through a grater or chopper. 2. Shape into two meatloaf-shaped loaves on cookie sheets or other large, flat pans. Cover with foil. 3. Bake two hours at 325 degrees or until done. Makes approximately 20 servings of 10 ounces each.

NOTE: Although the recipe was not tested at The Seattle Times, the newspaper's food writers offer the following observations: Cooking time is likely to be more than two hours; the dish should reach a temperature of 170 degrees on a meat thermometer for ground beef and 180-185 degrees for chicken; when a knife is inserted in the center of the loaf the juices should run clear. The number of portions is likely to be more than 20.

Copyright (c) 1993 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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