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ACLU says DOC should be held in contempt over kosher meals

December 23, 2011

The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana is asking a federal judge to hold the state’s Department of Correction in contempt for not offering inmates kosher meals as it had been ordered to do a year ago.

On behalf of four Indiana prisoners, the ACLU-Indiana filed a motion Thursday in the case of Matson Willis, et al. v. Commissioner, Indiana Department of Correction, et al, No. 1:09-cv-815 JMS-DML, alleging that the DOC isn’t complying with a December 2010 decision by U.S. Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson requiring that kosher diets be provided to prisoners whose religious beliefs require a kosher diet.

The motion comes after Magnus-Stinson’s ruling last year that state prison officials were violating the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act by denying the kosher meals to inmates who requested them. The class-action lawsuit against the DOC commissioner, the religious services director and officials at the Miami Correctional Facility was filed after grievances by Matson Willis, an Orthodox Jew who kept kosher, were denied.

The DOC claimed it had a compelling government interest to keep costs down and that is why it stopped serving kosher meals, but the federal judge disagreed. Willis and others were awarded nominal damages in the amount of $60 and the DOC was ordered to provide “certified kosher meals to all inmates who, for sincerely held religious reasons, request them in writing.”

Although the DOC appealed, the state dropped that appeal before the 7th Circuit in May after the DOC agreed to start offering kosher meals to inmates.

That is not being happening, according to ACLU-Indiana legal director Ken Falk. He said the prisoners seeking enforcement of the court’s judgment have diverse religious beliefs and reside in correctional facilities in Michigan City, Pendleton and Putnamville.

“The court's judgment in this case is clear, and the DOC is not free to disregard it,” Falk said. “The DOC does not have the right to deny these prisoners an intrinsic element of their religious beliefs.”
 

 


 

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