On Oct. 26, the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti aired an interview with Maria Butina, who had been released from U.S. custody the previous day. Butina had pled guilty to conspiracy to act as an illegal foreign agent in December 2018. Specifically, she had been accused by prosecutors of trying to infiltrate Republican party political circles, mainly via her association with the National Rifle Association, in order to promote friendlier relations with Russia. She also failed to register as a foreign agent under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. She was sentenced to 18 months in confinement but received nine months credit for time served in custody while her case progressed.
RIA Novosti published a clip from the interview in which Butina complained about the prison food.
“Every Thursday we had a chicken day in prison,” she said. “Chicken day was always a fight for chicken. Because chicken legs are small, and you want to eat. That is the only real meat they give – not [meat] substitute, but real meat.”
Following her arrest on July 15, 2018, Butina spent time in several U.S. correctional facilities. During her trial, she was held in the Alexandria Detention Center near Washington, D.C. After sentencing, Butina moved to the Tallahassee Federal Correctional Facility in Florida.
Polygraph.info looked at menus for the facilities, and they suggest Butina’s complaints were exaggerated.
The Tallahassee Federal Correctional Facility falls under the U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons, which has a standardized menu for all its facilities and posts it online. The menus show that meat – both beef and chicken – as well as fish, are served regularly, often for lunch and dinner. Fruit is also listed, although there is no specific mention of bananas. Inmates can also purchase a variety of food items from the prison canteen, including several types of meat.
A spokesperson for the Alexandria Detention Center said the facility’s food meets guidelines established by the National Academy of Sciences.
Amy Bertch, a communications specialist, said in an email that inmates receive both poultry and beef. “Inmates do get fresh fruit, including apples, oranges, and, when seasonably available, watermelon, cantaloupe and honeydew melon, but they rarely get bananas,” she wrote.
Inmates are not allowed to take fruit back to their cells because it attracts insects and can also be used to make alcoholic beverages.
Russian state media has tried to present Butina as a victim of inhumane treatment during her detention in the United States. On Dec. 14, 2018, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said “the goal of the [detention] conditions that were created for her was to break her will and make her admit to something that she most probably did not commit."
On April 30, 2019, the Russian news outlet Izvestia claimed that Butina had faced “unprecedented pressure and in inhumane prison conditions.”
Polygraph.info investigated both claims in prior fact checks and found them to be misleading. Butina and her lawyer had spoken of her healthy condition while in prison, and no evidence has surfaced that she was subjected to unusual treatment.