Better food – better prisoners? Reprieve by Art makes me smile

Better food – better prisoners?

How enhanced nutrition influences behavior. By enhancing the diet of prisoners, a more sociable behavior may be implemented.

It's a well-known fact that our diet takes a great influence on several bodily functions. We use it in order to improve physical functioning and appearance and it is also said to improve our cognitive functions. Instead of focusing on this individual perspective I want to call attention to a more social aspect of enhancement by optimizing dietary intake – or rather, how people who have failed in our society can be helped by it.

In a prison setting, one is confronted with aggressive, violent or generally antisocial behavioral patterns. It's obvious that this type of behavior is based on complex underlying processes that should be addressed from more than one perspective. Yet sometimes, the answer to a problematic issue, is closer than we could imagine: Our diet!

When looking at effects of nutrition on behavior it is important to consider underlying neurological aspects which modulate those effects. Recently, a lot of research regarding neurotransmitters and their link to socially relevant phenotypes – like aggressive behavior – has been published. Multiple neurotransmitter systems have been implicated in aggression, and the best replicated correlate of human aggressive behavior is a low level of the neurotransmitter serotonin because it modulates pro- and antisocial behavior in general. There are food supplements and contents that affect the influence of several neurotransmitters. For example eggs, milk and soy contain a substance called Tryptophan which is closely linked to serotonin and therefore also influences behavioral aspects and should therefore be included in a prisoner's diet. Also, omega-6 and omega-3 essential fatty acids, which influence levels of the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine, have been found to be deficient among violent offenders. Furthermore, prisoners might generally be lacking certain nutrients due to inadequate prison-food. Correcting this deficiency could help reduce their antisocial behavior. If food supplements such as Tryptophan or even just a balanced nutrition can reduce this kind of undesirable behavior, shouldn't there be a stronger focus on dietary standards for prisoners?

Dietary intake with its neurological impacts is based on a fundamental need that unites us all – no matter if eating takes place in prison or in the outside world. The importance of nutritional processes needs to be acknowledged in order to give socioeconomically disadvantaged people the chance to eliminate undesirable behavior patterns. Reducing antisocial behavior in people in general is a way to reduce societal-threatening aspects. So this way of enhancing society in contrast to individual enhancement strategies using food supplementation might be a recipe that goes beyond individual well-being because it shows us a chance to create a more peaceful environment for everyone.

We are only at the beginning of understanding implications of this research but it is certain that food recommendations so far barely take behavioral factors into account which should be reconsidered in the future.