Rikers Island inmates bake 36,000 loaves of bread a week

Every morning before dawn, 20 inmates from Rikers Island arrive at a bakery on the other side of the island. There they bake loaf after loaf of bread until early afternoon.

It takes 36,000 loaves of bread a week to feed New York City's prison population of 13,000 people; the select few from Rikers Island bake every single one of those whole-wheat loaves.

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The work assignment is considered a privileged one; only inmates serving terms of less than a year are eligible to work in the bakery. The object (beyond providing inmates with food to eat) is to prepare them for gainful employment upon release.

It's a potentially dangerous place. Industrial — and often near-archaic — equipment is plastered with warnings and blades from the slicing machines are counted at the end of every shift to ensure homemade weapons aren't being sourced from the kitchen.

So far, the well-guarded bakery has been free of violence.

As for the bread itself, the inmates give it the thumbs up, calling it better than store-bought varieties.

In the past two years, changes have been made to the jail's bread-making strategy. AP reports a nutrition task force under Mayor Michael Bloomberg influenced the decision to switch from white bread to whole wheat. Budget cuts have decreased inmates' daily rations of eight slices of bread a day to only six.

The bread is not available to the public.

Rikers' bakery is also known for its carrot cake, a holiday treat praised within prison walls. The New York Times published the recipe last summer for the non-incarcerated to create at home.