San Bernardino County, CA — In the late 90’s, amid rising crime rates and finite lockup space, the private prison industry was looking like a pretty lucrative business opportunity for anyone who could take advantage. Having received a dire report from Georgia-based prison design firm Rosser International Inc., San Bernardino County was expecting a shortfall in inmate beds and a doubling of their inmate population by the year 2020. Against this background, the County began accepting bids for a 500-inmate private prison.
Terry Mooreland, CEO of Maranatha Private Corrections LLC was among the individuals who bid on the project. There was only one catch. Mooreland’s bid included a stipulation that if he was awarded the bid, inmates serving sentences at his facility would be offered a vegan diet.
As fate would have it, Mooreland won the bid and in 1997 began to build what became the Victor Valley Medium Community Correctional Facility in Adelanto, California; which is about 120 miles northeast of Los Angeles. Once operational, this facility saw remarkable results for seven years, before a dispute over inmate phone revenue led the State of California to cancel their contract with Mooreland.
It is unbelievable that something as silly as phone revenue could cause a State to end one of the most remarkable prison success programs in the country, where inmates got out and stayed out. At the time, the State of California had a recidivism rate of 95%. This is the percentage of former prisoners who are rearrested. The Victor Valley facility enjoyed a recidivism rate of less than 2%.
So, what was the key factor behind this success? A vegan diet.
Upon arrival, new inmates attended an orientation where they received two clear choices. They could live on one side of the prison which operated using the standard California Department of Corrections (CDC) guidelines and food menus; or, they could live on the side of the prison operated under the “NEWSTART” program which included a vegan diet, bible studies, job training and anger management.
In a video-taped interview obtained by Vegetarian Spotlight, Victor Valley nutrition services coordinator Julianne Aranda explains that “what we eat not only affects us physically, but it affects our mental attitude, our aggressiveness and our ability to make good decisions”. In interview after interview it was clear that the NEWSTART program staff was in agreement that the mind and body must be cleaned up in order for the inmates to achieve positive behavioral changes.
Initially, although the State of California was very supportive of the NEWSTART concept, they told Moorland they didn’t believe that even five inmates (of the 500) would accept that kind of a diet. In fact, they told Moorland that inmates would probably “burn the place down before they became vegetarians”. However, once the program was in progress, the opposite became true. On average, 85% of the inmates chose the NEWSTART side while only 15% chose the CDC program.
The remarkable behavioral changes could even be seen outside in the prison yard where according to prison officials, nobody “owned” or controlled the yard. Typical lines drawn between blacks, whites, hispanics, gang members and other groups were non existent. On the NEWSTART side, everyone played basketball together and had great fellowship. The CDC side of the house had the same racial divisions experienced at any other prison.
In testimonials, inmates assert that the surprisingly good-tasting food led them to feel better, have greater energy, increased stamina and reduced problems with acne. Indeed the effectiveness of a vegan vegetarian diet in rehabilitation has been scientifically validated.
Although the State of California apparently preferred to pursue phone revenue over rehabilitated inmates, the success of the Victor Valley facility gives us something to think about. Could this kind of a diet help us in raising our children?