At issue is the amount of soy that the IDOC currently uses in the food served to its inmates. While the Food and Drug Administration and the Soybean Association have reported that a daily diet should consist of a maximum of 25 grams of soy, Sally Fallon, president of the Weston A. Price Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization focusing on nutrition education, says Illinois inmates consume about 100 grams of soy each day. “Meals served to prisoners have very little meat or protein,” continued Fallon, who got involved in the lawsuit after her foundation began receiving letters of complaints from inmates in early 2008.
According to the lawsuit — Harris et al. v. Brown, et al. — IDOC began serving foods with high amounts of soy in 2004. As a result, the prisoners have either “already been physically damaged by their forced consumption of a diet that is high in soy” or that they will “continue to suffer bodily injury if they are forced to continue to consume the prison diet.”
While the suit names eight plaintiffs, Fallon says the foundation has received letters from 140 inmates, who claim to have become ill after consuming the high-soy diet. In the letter prisoners complain of heart problems, artery blockage, lumps in the abdomen, severe constipation, thyroid problems, shortness of breath, irritable bowel syndrome, fatigue, vomiting after eating, passing out and skin rashes.
Other illnesses associated with a high-soy diet include pancreatitis and gastrointestinal disorders, severe cramping, diarrhea, coughing, sneezing, runny nose, facial swelling, shortness of breath, low blood pressure, sleep disturbances, sinus and ear infections, and joint pain.
According to the lawsuit, since consuming IDOC’s high-soy diet, inmate Carl Moss, at Lawrence prison near Manteno, has had surgery to remove his thyroid. Inmates Gary Oliphant and Larry Harris, who is at Pinckneyville, have been implanted with pacemakers. Another prisoner, Thomas Juresic, an inmate at Danville prison, has suffered a heart attack. Other plaintiffs have had thyroid tests, and “all have out-of-range levels consistent with medical conditions that have an adverse impact on their thyroid.”
While Fallon says the plaintiffs have requested and been denied an alternative diet, only one inmate has been cleared for a soy-free diet. “They are told that they can either eat what is served or nothing at all.” Few, stated Fallon, have funds to buy food from the prison commissary, forcing them to eat the soy.
The suit further states that some of the plaintiffs’ illnesses have been misdiagnosed, and that all of have been denied “adequate, necessary or appropriate medical treatment for the serious medical needs.”
In addition, the lawsuit alleges that Harris was placed in segregation — without complying with department policy and procedure — when he assisted other inmates with filing grievances and writing letters to the courts complaining of the high-soy diet, and that plaintiff Dominick Giampaolo, also at Danville prison, was placed in segregation for several weeks in late-2008 and told by the assistant warden that “the request for the move came from outside.”
Fallon says that the state’s actions constitute cruel and unusual punishment, and they should have nutritious, sustaining diets and adequate medical care. “This is a very dangerous and unhealthy state Illinois has created,” says Price. “They are creating unhealthy people.” While most of the prisoners will eventually leave prison, she added that they will be a burden on society whether they are in prison or not, she added. Price: “The cost of too much soy is enormous. No one saves. This does great damage to the body and we are all going to pay.”
In 1999, the FDA approved a health claim that a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, and a maximum of 25 grams of soy protein a day, would reduce the risk of heart disease. But the agency is now considering removing approval of the health claim.
When it comes to feeding its inmates, Fallon added that Illinois should look to Virginia, where inmate diets consists of grain-fed beef raised by the prisoners. “Illinois inmates should be raising their own food, both meat and vegetables.”
With the lawsuit, the plaintiffs are asking for injunctions to stop the serving of any food containing soy; to provide adequate and necessary medical treatment; and to cease retaliation against any of the plaintiffs.
The Illinois Department of Corrections refused to answer questions concerning pending suits.
Contact Jolonda Young at email@example.com.