GF Meals in Prison

Katarina Mollo MEd, RDN, LDN
Q: My son has celiac disease and will be incarcerated for some time. Will he be able to get gluten-free meals in prison?

Answer


Celiac disease is recognized as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) which is a federal law, and as such prisons and correctional facilities are required to provide gluten-free meals to inmates with celiac disease, just as they are required to provide special diets for those with other medical conditions such as diabetes or food allergies. Although celiac disease is not directly stated, the ADA recognizes a disability when it affects a major life activity such as eating and digestion. This already has legal precedence in cases such as the Lesley University and Rider University settlements.

There should be a registered dietitian on staff at the prison's nutrition department. I would recommend that your son asks to speak with the dietitian to work out a suitable meal plan. The dietitian should have insight to what foods are available at the prison, and I believe they can also provide meal supplements such as Ensure or Boost. He also has a right to see a doctor in prison for regular follow-ups for celiac disease. Most doctors recommend yearly follow-ups and antibody testing.

Prisons and correctional facilities may have issues in the foodservice department due to a lack of training and limited knowledge of celiac disease and the gluten-free diet. You can download our Celiac Disease Facts brochure that can be given to medical professionals or other staff that explains celiac disease and the gluten-free diet, as well as our Gluten-Free Meal Preparation Guidelines, that can be used for foodservice staff as a guide to safely prepare and serve gluten-free meals.

Training for Foodservice:

We recently did a training for the National Resource Center on Nutrition & Aging on celiac disease and how to prepare gluten-free meals. The aim was to increase awareness and knowledge for foodservice staff serving seniors in various environments. This could also be used for training prison foodservice workers about gluten-free meals and could be a good resource to share if they require training. The two-part webinar can be accessed for free at:  https://nutritionandaging.org/toolkit-preparing-gluten-free-senior-meals-parts-1-2/#wbounce-modal

Additional Resources:

To read more about Americans with Disabilities Act:  https://www.ada.gov/

Lesley University Settlement: https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/justice-department-and-lesley-university-sign-agreement-ensure-meal-plan-inclusive-students

Rider University Settlement: https://www.justice.gov/usao-nj/pr/us-attorney-s-office-reaches-agreement-rider-university-resolve-allegations-under

If your son experiences problems with access to gluten-free foods after trying to communicate and educate staff I recommend to contact your state attorney general's office or legal advice:

https://www.usa.gov/state-attorney-general

Note: This information is provided by NCA and Katarina Mollo MEd, RDN, LDN, NCA's Director of Education. This information is meant for educational purposes only and is not intended to substitute for personalized medical advice or replace any medical advice provided directly to you by your health care provider. No liability is assumed by the NCA or Katarina Mollo, MEd, RDN, LDN by providing this information.

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