A study of the food served at a youth detention center in South Australia provides insight into the role that food choices and menus play in enhancing or diminishing the incarceration experience.
A Flinders University study of 40 inmates aged 10-19 noted general disappointment with the quality of food and the need for the child or youth to make healthier choices, practice their culture or make positive personal choices during his detention and after his release.
“This is the first time we have examined the extent to which the food experiences of incarcerated children corresponded to the principles proclaimed in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and in the Charter of the Rights of Children and Young Persons in Prison. in training centers,” said Flinders University researcher Dr Simone Deegan.
“Interviews at the Kurlana Tapa Youth Justice Center revealed that many young people viewed their food service as a punitive aspect of their incarceration, particularly as it did not reflect cultural expectations or preferences.”
More institutional engagement with residents to modify or improve their food service would improve their experience, starting with a review of the food offering by a qualified nutritionist-dietitian.
In addition to involving youth in improving the quality, quantity and variety of meals and snacks in the shop, youth engagement could then branch out into learning to plan, budget, shop, cook and sharing a healthy meal, providing independent living skills. and maintaining cultural connections, where appropriate.
Some residents said confectionery choices mainly included high-carb, sugary snacks such as cookies and chocolate chips, and main meals were not palatable and limited in fresh fruits and vegetables.
“In addition to health benefits, food and food-related activities can be used to improve cultural awareness and belonging, social and peer development, literacy and numeracy, problem solving, sensory development and even their coordination,” Deegan said.
“By building structural systems to safely engage children and young people in the cooking process, they also learn more about their bodies and what they eat more generally, leading to more positive eating habits at adulthood.
“This extra effort would ensure, at a very basic but important level, that the rights of particularly vulnerable children and young people are respected and that their development and well-being are supported in a variety of therapeutic and rehabilitation settings.