Like a hearty meal, many ingredients are needed to create a sustainable path to successful community reentry for individuals with justice involvement. Unfortunately, criminal justice in the U.S. is not optimized for rehabilitation, perpetuating a needless cycle of recidivism that sees upwards of 83% of individuals with justice involvement rearrested in the years after their release from state prisons.
Empowering people through holistic and supportive services helps to counteract this startling statistic, a belief The Fortune Society has implemented since 1967. These services include proper food and nutrition, a foundational part of thriving that too many individuals in prisons and jails are tragically missing. As The Atlantic reports, many correctional institutions fail to meet basic standards of food preparation and safety, leaving individuals with justice involvement at a significantly higher risk for illnesses connected to what they eat than others:
In popular culture, “prison food” is widely understood to be low in both quality and taste. What isn’t discussed as often, however, is the toll a lack of proper nutrition has on an individual’s ability to move forward from their past. Far too often, individuals leaving U.S. jails and institutions bring with them a host of new medical issues, including hypertension and diabetes—all, as Prison Policy notes, at rates higher than the average population.
What’s worse is that the inadequacies of “prison food” isn’t just exclusive to prisons and jails. In communities around the country, individuals experience food insecurity daily. In fact, according to the Food Bank for New York City, the food insecurity rate was over 16% in NYC alone, with over 1.3 million individuals labeled as food insecure. In addition to bodily consequences, this consistent lack of adequate nutrition has a significant impact on an individual’s mental and emotional wellbeing. As Harvard Medical School states:
It’s no wonder, then, that a strong correlation exists between health and criminal justice involvement. A recent internal study by the NYU Wagner Graduate School of Public Service concluded that 60% of participants at The Fortune Society are food insecure, with 21% being very insecure. Of those who do consume enough calories, a vast majority of what is eaten is not high in a recommended amount of nutritional value.
Recognizing this shortage, Fortune’s Food and Nutrition Program aims to give each participant the sustenance they need to thrive. Through a robust set of initiatives, it addresses systemic disparities in health by providing healthy meals, increasing access to fruits and vegetables through partnerships with local farming communities, and offering nutrition education classes.
The impact of these initiatives is tremendous. In 2017 alone, Fortune provided:
These results extend beyond Fortune participants, positively affecting their families and the neighborhoods they call home. Plus, healthy foods and eating habits aren’t just relegated to one program at Fortune. In conjunction with Food and Nutrition, the Benefits Application Assistance (Single Stop) program helps participants overcome food insecurity by helping them navigate the SNAP (Supplemental Assistance Nutrition Program) benefits application process. And, through Culinary Arts training, Fortune’s Employment Services program equips participants with the knowledge to both succeed in the workforce and create healthy meals.
Atop the rooftop at the Castle Gardens, Fortune’s supportive housing development in West Harlem, individuals also learn how to cultivate fresh vegetables and herbs from the ground up. It’s a beautiful reflection of the Fortune community at-large: By planting seeds of health and nutrition through compassionate services, each participant has the opportunity to grow beyond their past and lead fulfilling lives.
*Article by Root Stitches LLC