Just like the title says, I'm wondering how long somebody can be held in custody before the police are legally required to feed them. Is there any legal limit, or is it at the discretion of the officers?

As a bonus/optional question: are there any legal precedents of people starving to death (from not being fed, not by them deciding not to eat) while being held by the police?

Update Specifically in regards to the USA (although info about more places is always welcome).

  • 2
    Here is a case in which a man died in jail after losing a lot of weight. His family alleges that he was not fed regularly; the case is under litigation. I also found this case in which a teenager was left in a cell without food or water for five days, but survived. I didn't find any clearer cases. Commented Jul 31, 2016 at 18:44
  • 2
    For what its worth, everytime I've been to jail, they feed within a couple hours. Food may be leftovers, but at least they try. Commented Aug 1, 2016 at 15:32
  • 4
    @DanShaffer "Every" time, hmm? :P
    – Cyphase
    Commented Jul 8, 2017 at 21:44
  • Would there be a general rule that they have to keep you healthy? Say if you are arrested two seconds after finishing a marathon, where your health requires lots of fluids.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Jan 7, 2022 at 14:28

2 Answers 2


There appears to be no specific number of hours. This article touches on the matter, presenting a slew of cases where e.g. the prisoner was on a hunger strike (self-imposed starvation is not cruel and unusual punishment). Gardener v. Beale upheld a 2-meal plan with 18 hours between dinner and brunch to be allowed. This was, however a temporary exception rather than a long term policy which was to provide 3 meals not spaced further apart than 12 hours. There does not seem to be any period deemed to be legally too long, however a prison system may have (probably does) have a policy, which cannot simply be ignored.


English custody requirements are that prisoners are fed three times per day, plus any reasonable request for drink during meals or between meals.

The law (PACE 1984) requires us to provide at least 2 light and one main meals per day, as well as responding to reasonable requests. That said, it is normal practice to provide meals when detainees are hungry, regardless of how much they have had, within reason. As an example, some homeless detainees may well be far hungrier that those more fortunate, so we do our best to look after their needs by providing more food than some others. In short, we do what is right in compliance with the code of ethics, as opposed to delivering the minimum.

'Custody meals. What detainees eat and drink in custody' - Essex Police

8.6 At least two light meals and one main meal should be offered in any 24-hour period. See Note 8B. Drinks should be provided at meal times and upon reasonable request between meals. Whenever necessary, advice shall be sought from the appropriate healthcare professional on medical and dietary matters. As far as practicable, meals provided shall offer a varied diet and meet any specific dietary needs or religious beliefs the detainee may have. The detainee may, at the custody officer’s discretion, have meals supplied by their family or friends at their expense.


There is no listed maximum amount of time given between detention and feeding (or between meals) but in practice meals seem to be provided approximately every 6-7 hours in order to meet the legal requirement as well as snacks and drinks for those who express a desire to eat immediately.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .