Healthy Food, Healthy Lives

Project Title

Improving the Quality of Food in New York State Prisons

Grant Amount


Priority Area

Healthy Food, Healthy Lives

Date Awarded

March 10, 2023





In Progress


Prisons serve millions of meals annually. A person sentenced to prison in the United States consumes, on average, more than 3,000 meals behind bars.

Given their massive scale, prisons can have a significant impact on the health of marginalized individuals. They can also harness their purchasing power toward healthier foods over the long term. Incarceration contributes to poor health outcomes, racial health disparities, and decreases in life expectancy. Diet plays a role in this drop in life expectancy, as incarcerated people lack meaningful access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food. Fewer hot meals, smaller portions, lower-quality protein, lack of fruits and vegetables, and more ultra-processed foods have become the norm across prisons. In 2020, the Correctional Association of New York (CANY) conducted an initial survey on the quality and accessibility of food in New York State prisons, revealing that individuals skip meals because of their poor quality; that meals are usually unhealthy; and that food is used as punishment—either withheld or served spoiled. In 2023, NYHealth awarded CANY a grant to conduct a comprehensive landscape assessment to identify recommendations for improving the quality of food served to incarcerated New Yorkers.

Under this grant, CANY will research the legal, regulatory, and procurement landscape governing food in New York State and identify best practices from states that are farther along to determine pathways for facilitating change. It will interview key stakeholders—including State prison management and staff, the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH), industry representatives, and incarcerated people’s families—about prison food quality, healthfulness, and service. CANY will also conduct a system-wide survey of incarcerated people that will dive deeper into their experiences accessing food. Population-level data will be obtained from the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) to determine the relationship between food access, nutrition, and health outcomes in prisons. CANY will examine the data in relation to NYSDOH data on health status in the communities that incarcerated people come from and return to. An advisory council of experts in various fields will provide feedback throughout the process. CANY will publish findings and share recommendations with the advisory council, DOCCS, policymakers, and the governor’s office.