"How Soylent and Oculus Could Fix The Prison System"

from Man Eating Robot: “How Soylent and Oculus Could Fix The Prison System

He re-imagines prisons to take advantage of technologies to cut costs and make prisoners safer. Some ideas seem more feasible than others.


We don’t know that people could stand basically living in virtual reality for years. It would be a heck of a shock when you were released.

Have similar communities been tried among non-criminals?

Vandalism-proof equipment might have to be developed.

Perhaps I misread it, but I didn’t get the impression that that was what he was proposing. I think the virtual reality aspect was for education and entertainment (at most a few hours per day), not permanent living.

In any event, I think Soylent in prisons would be a great idea to save costs and provide nutrition. Even if it was only every other day or something.


Save costs? Soylent costs several times as much as existing prison food.

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Per the article:

For $7.70 a day, you could give every inmate a perfectly balanced diet while dramatically simplifying prison logistics. If we were ordering in bulk for 2.2 million prisoners, Soylent would obviously give a discount. Let’s call it $10 to make the math simple and/or to account for larger inmates who need more than 2,000 calories.10 After replacing prison food with Soylent, you could get rid of prison cafeterias and replace all the food services staff with a delivery person who drops off and picks up plastic bottles to each cell every day. Prisons would no longer need utensils (potential shanks), napkins, or to break up cafeteria fights. No more birthday cakes with hacksaws inside. And fewer nutrition-related health problems.

The food would cost more with Soylent, but it might be a net cost savings for not needing kitchen space, manpower to make meals, extras like utensils/napkins/etc? I actually have no idea. The author didn’t really research the costs well enough, imo.

I agree that he makes a good point about it being a safer environment if food were converted to Soylent.


Yeah, so he’s just making it up, and I don’t buy it. Prison food is really really cheap.


To be fair, Soylent would certainly be healthier than this:


And here’s some facts, unlike the article, for California’s total food costs (probably on the high end of the scale)


$1,475 per year = $4.04 per day


Let me guess, future costs of healthcare due to poor diet are just “externalities” in economics right? lol

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Sure, if you ignore the possible reductions in security ($19,663), medical care ($8,768), and facility operations ($4,503), which was the entire point of the article. Total: $32,934/year ($90/day). Reducing those costs by a few percentage points would more than pay for Soylent even at current prices.


Sure, you can pay for Soylent from other savings, but switching to Soylent does not reduce costs.

Not having to refrigerate anything (they’d serve the Soylent right after mixing on site), as well as getting rid of a kitchen area and staff, might make up for the greater cost of the food itself, so switching to Soylent would probably save money in my opinion.

However, NASA would argue that forcing someone to eat the same thing every day will lead to depression, which would harm efforts to rehabilitate prisoners.

They only spend $4 a day (in high cost California, much less in other states) including all those costs. So until Soylent drops to about $3/day then no, it doesn’t reduce costs.


Ah, if it includes all those costs, then you’re definitely right. It’s impressive that they can keep food costs that low. It’ll probably be quite a while before Soylent is feasible in a prison setting then.

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Did you not read the article? :confused:

Do you know for certain that they include the cost of electricity, labor, space for preparing meals and space for dining, etc.? I don’t see that in the chart that you linked to anywhere. (I just see a “Food” line, where these other costs might fall under “Operations” or something.)

Also, looking at the chart, the biggest expenditure is security, which is almost half of the total cost per prisoner. I would assume that security costs go up when transporting prisoners and having them congregate for meals. (The amount of guards needed increases.)

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Kind of ironic to worry about subjecting a prisoner to monotony. Especially in the US where solitary confinement isn’t considered torture.

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It would be quite illogical to separate costs that way. If you can find some indication that they split costs that way, great, show it. A kitchen is to make food. A cook is there to make food. There’s no logical reason to track those costs in completely different categories.

Here’s another chart showing only $2.45 per day.

Food service costs:

$955/year average
Reports of low food costs often reflected prisoner-operated farm and food processing operations.

$2.25 per day per inmate, less than that of California’s state prisons ($2.45) and federal penitentiaries ($2.78).

Prison food is a miniscule expense. Mass produced food with little care to quality or nutrition or taste is cheap. Soylent is expensive comparatively.


Logically, very few of the tertiary items listed would fall strictly under “food”.

Presumably, the cost of stuff like electricity would show up in the cost of running the building, and therefore be listed under building maintenance or something like that.

The cost of the spaces themselves would have come in construction costs when the building was constructed. Presumably the kitchen and dining spaces could be utilized for something else if not needed for food.

The labor for the kitchen would almost assuredly be listed under Operations, but they likely use prisoners themselves, so the costs are likely fairly low. Your original link seems to not be working at the moment, so I can’t look at the breakdown.

Obviously security guards would be listed under Security. The savings on security guards alone not needed for 3 meals a day would likely pay for Soylent.

A larger issue, however, might be the guarantee of a certain level of nutrition for prisoners. From what I am reading, they certainly do not get that nutrition now.

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A happier person is a nicer person. Maybe the prison system thinks subjecting them to monotony will make them even more badder. Solitary is not used on everyone, only those who make it hard for other prisoners, and also it is used to set an ‘example’ to other prisoners if they misbehave. Also its not permanent to my knowledge.