Hungry for Change: Starving within English Prisons

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Article by Kevan Thakrar

When I was first kidnapped by the state and imprisoned through the process they call remand back in 2007, I received three hot meals a day served at 8 am, 11.30 am, and 6 pm, as well as an evening snack to help reduce hunger through the long hours of lockdown overnight from 8 pm until 8 am. Since then, the swingeing cuts inflicted by the tories on public sector spending coupled with the removal of centralised mandatory minimum spending amounts for food budgets, along with the unsatiable demand by the Prison Officers’ Association (POA) for increased staffing levels, has caused the quality and quantity of the food provided to imprisoned human beings to be decimated.

To be clear, nobody would ever argue that the food standards in prisons in 2007 were good, decent, or nutritious, except possibly through the fake news and propaganda pushed from the right-wing tabloid press and government; but it was from this already low-bar that prison governors have chosen to drop them further, choosing to spend the money trying to pacify the POA’s never-ending demands instead. Pilfering from the food budgets has left the national average amount spent per prisoner per day at a miserly £2.16 to cover the entirety of the food served in each 24-hour period.

Making matters worse, this figure of £2.16 is actually distorted upwards by the costs of the supplements provided to pregnant women, formula for the caged babies in the mother and baby units, enhanced nutrition required to maintain growth of the imprisoned children, and most significantly by the scam that sees exorbitant fees paid to maintain those registered as Jewish receiving externally sourced Kosher meals from a profiteering single supplier. The true average for adult male prisoners is therefore closer to the £2 per day mark, however this figure also includes all of the wasted food as well as that which is stolen and consumed by prison officers, so is still not accurately reflective of what is actually served. Furthermore, this amount is less than half what the prisons spend to feed the so-called prison guard dogs.

With this pittance allocated for the food budgets, it will come as no surprise to learn that these days only one hot meal is served in each 24-hour period. Breakfast has been reduced to pre-packaged sugary cereal, usually only 20g of rice crispies, with 189ml of UHT long-life milk rather than the 250ml of fresh milk they used to provide. Governors know that this ‘breakfast’ is so insignificant that it is actually delivered at ‘dinner-time’ the afternoon before, and takes the place of the evening snack which has also been withdrawn. Lunch has shrunk to an 85g pack of instant noodles or a single bun with a smear of margarine on one-half, and the filling is routinely only a single slice of processed cheese, served with a biscuit. The vegetables at dinner now look like they glow-in-the-dark, and the slop they accompany comes in such a small portion that you do not have time to fully appreciate just how bad it tastes. As for the dessert, instead of prisoners making it using fresh ingredients keeping costs low, pre-packaged processed cake bars or defrosted oranges that taste like they died years ago enable kitchen managers to count every penny. £2 is never going to stretch very far…

To accommodate the POA demands to keep prisoners locked-up all day, the times that meals are served has been condensed to less than a 5-hour period. Lunch is at 11.30am still, but breakfast and dinner now both come together at 4pm, and earlier at 3.30pm on weekends. The long hours of hunger which this causes are exacerbated by the meagre portions served which often total only 1000 calories per day, less than half the recommended daily allowance for an adult male, and less if located within segregation and the prison officers refuse to provide even that.

For those few prisoners who have money sent-in to them from family or friends, they can supplement this lack of food with purchases from the weekly canteen order. However, as well as no longer being available on a daily basis or functioning like the food shop that they used to, the limited choices available now, and cost of them, restrict most orders to little more than junk food; so keeping healthy is impossible. Furthermore, these expenses leave less funds available to maintain contact with those outside prison through the exorbitant costs of phone credit, and for correspondence materials including the ever more expensive postage stamps, causing these relationships to suffer and dwindle over time.

Inevitably, enduring this hunger leads to anger and desperation. Violence has become routine, and even those able to bolster their diet using their own money struggle to stay calm with the minimum 22-hours a day lockdown regimes that the POA insist upon. With inflation at 10%, the deterioration of the food and prison conditions continues to be compounded with the system stuck in a negative spiral that jeopardises the lives of us held hostage by the state. As the prison population and overcrowding continue to rise, it is certain that the trajectory will carry us into a desolate environment with this oppression effectively through malnutrition leaving space for no more than the survival of the fittest. Already those with underlying and/or chronic health conditions who would be safe in society are being killed-off through this inhumane diet and detention within these stress inducing cages. This is the reason that life expectancy for imprisoned people is significantly reduced in comparison to those who are free. How much further can food standards be allowed to drop and how many lives can be allowed to be lost before becoming too much, or do the lives of imprisoned human beings not count?

Kev Thakrar

As well as suffering from a miscarriage of justice having been convicted under the controversial and discredited legal doctrine of joint enterprise, Kev is one of the 50-men within English prisons to be detained within the Close Supervision Centre (CSC) system under Rule 46 of the Prison Rules 1999. When the Segregation Units disappear people, the CSC is where they end-up. This is the front-line in the battle against state violence where you must resist or capitulate, and Kev more than any other continues in the struggle as a champion of the people. In 2021 the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture raised the conditions of his detention with the government1, and he is taking a judicial review of the policy of allowing indefinite segregation which enables his ongoing solitary confinement due at the Royal Courts of Justice on the 25th and 26th April 2023.

Please help combat his isolation and help him endure the state inflicted torture by writing to him at:


NEW ADDRESS – HMP Manchester, Southall St, Cheetham Hill, Manchester M60 9AH

Additionally or alternatively, cards can be sent to him via WWW.FUNKYPIDGEON.COM or photos through WWW.FREEPRINTS.COM, and it is also possible to email Kev using WWW.EMAILAPRISONER.COM. To help cover the costs of Kev maintaining contact with us outside, and of supporting him, please donate to:

Read more from and about Kev on WWW.JUSTICEFORKEVAN.ORG