Prison porridge dries up

It was good enough for Fletch in Ronnie Barker's classic comedy but now it seems porridge's place as the staple of a prisoner's diet is under threat.

It was good enough for Fletch in Ronnie Barker's classic comedy but now it seems porridge's place as the staple of a prisoner's diet is under threat.

South Norfolk MP Richard Bacon has called on prisons in England and Wales to serve prisoners more porridge for breakfast after a House of Commons report into diet and exercise.

It found only nine prisons in the country serve porridge on a daily basis and 95 never serve it at all - at Norwich the traditional dish has been replaced by a continental breakfast.

Mr Bacon said: "Porridge is healthy, nutritious and provides a steady release of energy throughout the day. It is an excellent, balanced British breakfast.

"Porridge helps lower cholesterol. It is low in fat, low in salt and high in soluble fibre. Porridge even helps the brain to produce serotonin, which lifts the spirits and reduces the appetite. Porridge is possibly the perfect food.

"Given that porridge has so many clear benefits, it is wrong that so few prisons make porridge available to inmates. All prisoners should have the choice to eat porridge every day".

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James Shanley, governor at Norwich prison, said his staff take diet and exercise very seriously. The prison has recently increased its spending on food by more than 10pc and carries out regular surveys to ensure it is of a good standard.

It is a far cry from the old image of gruel being slopped on to plates - prisoners have a choice of meals which are all nutritionally balanced and portion controlled.

Mr Shanley said: "A healthy diet and regular exercise are a key part of the prison life. Eight out of 10 prisoners arrive with substance misuse issues and, after undergoing detox, it is important to get back on the right track.

"Prisoners do have an element of choice in their diet so they can basically be as healthy as they want to be.

"At Norwich, physical-education standards are very high - so much so that many go on to pursue this as a career when they are released."

On the subject of porridge, Mr Shanley added: "We don't serve it for the simple reason that prisoners are now given their continental breakfast the night before.

"In the old days they would be let out of their cells, come down for breakfast, be locked up again and then finally get to work after wasting several hours.

"Now they are let out at 8.15am having already eaten and ready for work by 8.30am so it means we get a much more productive day out of them," he said.