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York County Prison listing brings back food loaf memories

Food loaf won’t be on the menu of any restaurant that opens at the old York County (Pa.) Prison on Chestnut Street in York. In fact, it’s no longer on the menu at the new York County Prison on Concord Road. Prison officials discontinued it about two years ago. (See additional photo below.)  Background posts:Old York County Prison on endangered list and York’s Chestnut Street prison bad symbol of York’s past.

I was writing an editorial for the York Daily Record/Sunday News on the oft-mentioned prospect of a restaurant going into the old York County Prison, now for sale for $3.9 million.

I suggested the menu would have to fare better than food loaf, served over the years to problem inmates at the county prison.

What is food loaf?

Well, it’s today’s jail meal, dumped into a blender. Add in flour or corn meal and bake.

I actually tasted some about four years ago when the York Daily Record did a story on the topic. It tasted like corn bread with curious lumps in it, which I didn’t want to think about.

The Daily Record’s story of this prison menu item with accompanying quotes from taste testers:

Food loaf: It’s what’s for dinner. And breakfast. And lunch.

At least for inmates who break the rules at the York County Prison.

The loaf has been served to inmates in the behavioral adjustment unit for about five years now, but county officials want to fine-tune their policy, including establishing the number of days it can be given to inmates.

By clarifying that policy, county officials want to make it clear and effective in case someone takes the issue to court saying it’s cruel and unusual punishment.

Food loaf is a combination of whatever was on the menu the day before at the prison. The kitchen staff grinds up the food — green beans, hot dogs, whatever — and bakes it in a loaf. It has the same nutritional value as the food served to the prison’s general population.

The loaf, though, isn’t as appetizing to look at or eat, and it doesn’t receive rave reviews from the inmates. And ketchup isn’t an option for troublesome inmates. Warden Tom Hogan says serving the loaf helps to deter inmates from breaking the rules again.

Other prisons across the country use similar measures, but some people don’t like the tactic. Bill DiMascio, executive director of the Pennsylvania Prison Society, said prisoners do not need to be served filet mignon, but they should be served a decent meal.

Some who are punished for breaking the rules suffer from mental health problems. Reactions often are an emotional response, and people do what they do because they don’t know a better way, he said.

He thinks prisons should inspire people to do better, and they also should be showing inmates what a balanced meal looks like.
“We’re not helping them make any kind of transformation,” he said.

Jeffrey Ian Ross, a criminologist at the University of Baltimore, said he thinks the loaf can be a deterrence but not for someone who is predisposed to angry outbursts and rule-breaking.

And sometimes inmates on loaf rations lose the desire to eat, resulting in weight loss, he said. Prisoners also can lose weight from the psychological effects of being separated from the rest of the prison.

Occasionally inmates can get a guard or another prisoner to slip them regular food, Ross said.

The county’s vice president commissioner, Doug Kilgore, said serving the loaf makes sense to him. He thinks it would be an incentive for prisoners to behave.

He supports the policy.

The county does have some rules, which will be spelled out in the policy, according to assistant county solicitor Donald Reihart.

The loaf, for example, cannot be made from scraps or leftovers.

It also cannot be served to inmates with medical conditions or those with religious backgrounds that prohibit them from eating certain foods, Hogan said.

Reihart said he has come up with recommendations that will keep food loaf — also called sweet cake or fruitcake by inmates — within “constitutional limits.”

County officials also are proposing that inmates only be served the loaf for 15 days. If there is a repeat violation, though, the inmates could get another 15 days, Reihart said.

The county has assigned the issue to the rules and regulations committee of the prison board for a recommendation.
So what did Kilgore think of a sample of food loaf?

“Well, I guess if I was hungry enough, I’d eat it,” he said with a laugh.


The Daily Record asked several people Tuesday to sample a bit of York County Prison food loaf. Here’s their take on the jailhouse cuisine:

• “It’s not horrible. It kind of tastes like cornbread or something in a way. I wouldn’t want to eat it three times a day.” Chris Betush, 31, York
• “It’s not too bad. I can’t describe it. It tastes a lot like yeast.” Jamie Lewis, 22, West Manchester Township
• “Not very good . . . It’s just nasty kind of ’cause I don’t know what’s in it. I’d probably lose weight.” Shalom Beachy, 21, York
• “That’s all right. That ain’t bad. . . . I’m just hoping they ain’t got green beans on there. . . . Could I eat that? If I had to.” Gregory Michaels, 18, York
• “It tastes like cornbread.” Jason Johnson, 20, Prince George’s County, Md.

Other prison-related posts and photographs:

Wanted: ‘Inmates’ to fill old York County prison
If Boston can turn prison in hotel, York can …
York’s Chestnut Street fortress bad symbol of York’s past
For sale: 100-year-old fortress-like prison
Old York County jail on endangered list
Prison listing brings back food loaf memories
‘There were only so many cells in that old stone prison

A closeup of food loaf.