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Cooking in prison – from crook to cook

Linda Kjaer Minke (Linda Kjaer Minke is an Associate Professor, based at Department of Law, University of Southern Denmark, Odense, Denmark.)

International Journal of Prisoner Health

ISSN: 1744-9200

Article publication date: 9 December 2014




The purpose of this paper is to describe and analyse the principle and practice of self-catering system in a Danish prison. Self-catering is a reflection of the Danish correctional principle of normalisation between prison and community life. Unlike some other jurisdiction, issues of control in meal preparation are subordinate to prisoners’ right to choose and prepare their own food.


Findings are derived from 13 months of ethnographic fieldwork in a Danish maximum security prison for men, including in-depth interviews with 68 prisoners.


Overall findings showed that thinking about meals and their preparation is time consuming for prisoners who tend to be positive about the system making connections with their ability to exercise responsibility for making healthily choices. The research concludes that prisoners’ possibility for developing cooking competences during incarceration could support prisoners change in social identity from crook to cook.


Food is a fundamental need and the ability to choose what to eat and to prepare one's own food should be a right for all people, including prisoners. This research shows that Danish prisoners are very pleased about the system of self-catering. Most prisoners are concerned about preparing their own meals according to their taste and cultural diversity. If the prison offers the opportunity to train as a chef during imprisonment it could support the prisoner's change in social identity from crook to cook on the outside.



The author would like to thank the anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments and suggestions to improve the quality of the paper. The author is also grateful to Amy Smoyer (US) and Mary Munro (UK) for their work on improving the paper. Finally the author is grateful to the Danish researcher Lars Moeller, who introduced the author to this journal.


Kjaer Minke, L. (2014), "Cooking in prison – from crook to cook", International Journal of Prisoner Health, Vol. 10 No. 4, pp. 228-238.



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