How Do Prisons Accommodate Special Diets?

December 12, 2019

Food is an important issue in prisoner’s rights. Canadian prisons adhere to the WHO International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. This means that prisoners have a right to safe food and adequate nutrition.

But on a diet based on the needs of an inactive 31 to 50-year-old (with the average inmate being active and under 30) and an average food budget of $5.41 per, it’s hard to claim they’re getting enough. The struggle to provide adequate nutritional meals is enough to concern anyone with a specialized diet.

Do Prisons Accommodate Special Diets for Prisoners?

Fitness or weight loss diet fads like Keto, Paleo, and Whole30 don’t make their way into Toronto’s prison system. Prisoners do have a right to special diets that adhere to medical and religious needs, without having to purchase from commissary.  The typical prison menu is based on Canada’s Food Guide.

There are three types of accepted special diets:


Medical conditions such as pregnancy, heart disease, and diabetes may require specific diets to maintain or improve the prisoner’s wellbeing. These specialized diets may not be immediately recognized and may require a doctor’s note or approval.

Religious or Spiritual Diets

Prisoners have a right to their religious and spiritual beliefs. This includes having meals available that adhere to religious diets, for example, kosher and halal foods. As with medical diets, they are not always granted immediately upon request and may require a note from a Chaplain or a testimonial letter.

The Correctional Service of Canada’s Religious Diet General Guidelines outlines various religious/spiritual diets, their prohibited foods, and additional information. For example, this is the chart for Buddhist diets:

Spiritual diets may also require certain foods to be included in spiritual and cultural events:

Correctional Service of Canada


Lifestyle diets or diets of conscience, like vegetarianism and veganism, are a newer addition to specialized prison diets. An inmate requesting a diet of conscience must demonstrate their moral conviction and why the regular diet fails to meet their needs.

The inmate presents their request to a committee that assesses the diets nutrition as well as verifying the inmate’s beliefs. Applicability is assessed on a case-by-case basis.

Between receiving the request and holding a hearing an interim diet may be given for up to 14 days. This diet is vegetarian or vegan. In some instances, the interim diet period may be extended.

How to Request a Specialized Diet in Prison

Typically, a specialized diet is requested upon admission to the prison. At this time the A&D (admitting and discharge) will take down special diet requests, or a healthcare professional may make a recommendation.

If the A&D fails to ask or the prisoner fails to request a special diet during admission, the inmate can fill out a request form. The form will then be submitted to a review process.

Legal Remedies if a Specialized Diet Isn’t Provided

Not every request for a special diet in prison is met. However, if one is merited or has been approved but is not being met, legal routes may be available.

If a facility is not capable of adequately meeting an inmate’s dietary needs, they may be transferred to another facility.

Adequate food and nutrition have a direct impact on physical and mental health. Failing to meet those needs violates one’s charter rights. In some instances where inmates have received inadequate food that affected their health, they have received reduced sentences.

Toronto Criminal Defence Lawyer

If you or a loved one are facing criminal charges, you need representation. A criminal lawyer will help you understand your charges and your options. William Jaksa has over a decade of experience in Toronto criminal defence and is dedicated to helping you get the best possible outcome.

Contact us today for a consultation.      

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