The Texas prison system has a new goal: Serving slightly more edible food.

As part of a long-term strategic plan, the corrections agency aims to do away with the worst of prison fare — the meager and sometimes moldy brown-bag meals served during lockdowns, which occur regularly and can last for weeks.

Though lockdown meals have generated complaints for years, the public didn’t get a look at how awful they really were until 2020, when The Marshall Project and Hearst Newspapers published images of them captured with contraband phones. Afterward, the food improved in some prisons — but only for a short time, prisoners reported.

Now, though, the agency is making plans for more permanent improvements by starting a new culinary training program, in hopes of doing away with cold meals altogether.

“One of Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s goals for 2030 is to replace sack meals with nutritious, shelf-stable meals,” said Amanda Hernandez, the prison system spokesperson. To do that, Hernandez said, the agency will partner with the prison system’s in-house school district to “develop new Career and Technical Education courses in culinary arts that teach students about creating and distributing these types of meals.”

That effort will start with a pilot program to provide warm lockdown meals this spring at the Wallace and Ware units in West Texas, and at Stringfellow near Houston. Hernandez said it’s not clear when the program will expand across the state.

Advocates were cautiously optimistic about the plan.

“I’m really happy that TDCJ is actually looking into this and making an effort to move forward on a different path,” said Maggie Luna, policy analyst at the Texas Center for Justice & Equity, a nonprofit advocacy organization. Before going into policy work, Luna served time in Texas prisons, sometimes living on the cold bagged meals for weeks at a time.

“The food is so disgusting, I don’t know how much improvement they can make,” she said. “But I’d like to just see.”

Read the full article about prison food improvement plan by Keri Blakinger at Marshall Project.