Amy B. Smoyer, PhD

Incarcerated Lives, Health & Social Work

More Baloney

Pre-trial Lunch
Last week, I wrote about the baloney sandwiches and fast food that are served to people being held in police lock-up.  Here's a little more information on that subject - the baloney doesn't stop there...

All over the world, we incarcerate individuals who have not been convicted of a crime.  These individuals are waiting trial inside prison because they either have not been granted bail - the courts believe they might flee town if released - or, more likely, they don't have enough money to pay the bond required for them to await trial in the community.

According to the International Centre for Prison Studies, pre-trial detention represents about 20% of US prisoners.  Spain is about the same.  Countries with "slower" court systems tend to have the highest rates of pre-trial detention.  In over half of the nations in Africa, for example, the majority of prisoners are pre-trial detainees.

Most of the women who participated in my study about CT's women's prison, YCI, began their stay in the prison before they were convicted. Either they couldn't make bail, or decided it wasn't worth the expense since they were going to be convicted anyway.  Might as well start serving the time and get the sentence over with sooner.

For these pre-trial detainees, the first few months at YCI involve bus trips to court to have their case settled.  None of these women actually had a jury trial, their cases were resolved through negotiation of plea bargains with the prosecutor and the judge.  These trips back and forth to court are called "Court Runs."

Court runs take all day.  Women are woken up at 3:30am and brought to a holding space where they are strip searched and served a bagged breakfast. The bagged breakfast includes a small bag of cereal, milk and fruit.  Once they are ready to go, they wait.  The transportation van usually arrives between 5:00am and 8:00am. Women are then transported from YCI to the CT courthouse where their case is scheduled to be heard.  

Once they arrive at the courthouse, they wait in the court’s holding cell until their case is called.  The lunch which is provided is the same meal that is served in the big-city police lock ups: baloney sandwich with orange-flavored drink or milk.  The sandwich may include cheese.  Fruit and extra pieces of bread may sometimes be included. There was a clear consensus among study participants that these court run lunches are disgusting and many refuse to eat the sandwich. 

All in all, court runs make for a long, hungry day.  Twelve hours, one cereal, one sandwich.  By the time they get back to YCI, dinner has already been served so women coming off a court run eat commissary snacks, if they have them, or wait to eat until breakfast.

P27:  I ended up going on the court runs, ‘cause I didn’t post bond the last time I got arrested, I had no choice but to eat the baloney and cheese and I got sick.  On the court run back.  Vomiting up on the bus, the court run…I would not eat another baloney and cheese sandwich ever again, ‘cause it just make me sick to my stomach, and headache, brain was throbbing, throbbing down, I was real sick… that’s the one I just told ‘em, “You know what, I’ll take the two years.”  I don’t want to go on a court run because, you know…I was feeling sick yeah.  

There is no shortage of criticism about the US judicial process.  Overcrowded dockets and overwhelmed public defenders encourage hasty plea bargains with poor defendants, whether they are guilty or not.  The baloney sandwiches are just another piece of this deformed puzzle.  How are the ideals and hopes of our democracy represented when women decide to just "take the two years" because they "don't want to go on a court run"?

Does it not seem unethical to bring people to this process tired and hungry?  Would you want to contemplate your legal future on an empty stomach? Logic suggests that this moment in the process would justify the most decent food the system has to offer, not the worst.  Yet, the court run meals are notoriously bad. More than lazy food choices, these bagged meals should be considered an affront to the judicial process.