Healthy Food, Healthy Lives

Project Title

Improving the Quality of Food in New York State Prisons, Phase 2

Grant Amount


Priority Area

Healthy Food, Healthy Lives

Date Awarded

March 12, 2024





In Progress


In New York, more than 31,000 people are incarcerated in the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision’s (DOCCS) 44 prisons; more than half of them are Black or Hispanic.

Incarceration contributes to poor health outcomes and racial health disparities; life expectancy decreases by up to two years for every year spent in prison. 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. The Correctional Association of New York (CANY) conducted a survey on the quality and accessibility of food in DOCCS prisons, revealing that individuals avoid eating meals provided in prison mess halls because of poor quality and a lack of healthy options; they preferred to eat food either purchased from the commissary or received in packages sent from home; and they would like more fresh fruits and vegetables to be made available. In 2023, NYHealth awarded CANY a planning grant to research the legal, regulatory, and procurement landscape governing food in New York’s prisons. CANY’s research findings highlighted system-level barriers to change, including centralized meal production and decision-making. In 2024, NYHealth awarded CANY a grant to recommend changes to improve the healthfulness of food available in prison commissaries. 

Under this grant, CANY will work with the Office of the State Comptroller and the Attorney General to examine existing contracts and identify possible changes to encourage healthier purchases and offerings. It will also work with the New York State Department of Health to assess whether healthier food standards for commissaries are feasible in New York. CANY will review how the recently issued executive order encouraging State agencies to purchase 30% of foods from New York producers could change purchasing for commissaries. CANY will also continue to track and publish data about people’s experiences with prison food, food-related programming, health care access and availability, and progress in commissary offerings.