LANSING, MI (VosIzNeias) — A new settlement reached October 12th grants Jewish prisoners in Detroit, Michigan the right to receive certified kosher meals, after a class-action suit was backed by the Michigan American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
Previously, the The Michigan Department of Corrections had provided vegan meals which were supposed to serve as a substitute for religious meals for all prisoners from non-Christian religions.
However Jewish prisoners claimed that a kosher diet includes meat and not providing such a diet deprives them of basic rights. Additionally, the vegan meals were prepared using non-kosher equipment and utensils, which is contrary to halachic requirements.
Under the proposed new settlement, which is subject to a fairness hearing before U.S. District Judge Linda Parker in Detroit, the meals would have to either be prepared in prison kitchens that are certified kosher or purchased from an outside kosher vendor. The settlement requires correction centers to provide a kosher lunch and dinner each day to prisoners. However the settlement does not allow for meat meals to be provided specifically on Shabbat and other Jewish holidays, and this demand is now pending in court.
“A vegan diet … is based on Buddhist beliefs and practices,” former prisoner Michael Arnold said in the original lawsuit, filed in 2013. “The plaintiffs do not hold such beliefs.”
Arnold, who was dropped from the lawsuit when he was released from prison, added that”the policy of enforced vegetarianism is targeted specifically at prisoners … who are Jewish.”
Daniel Manville, director of the civil rights clinic at MSU’s College of Law, said that many prisoners have suffered since 2013 by being forced to eat vegan meals which were not in accordance with kosher specifications.
“It was stupid to do it that way without also certifying the kitchen as kosher,” Manville said of the department using one vegan meal for all non-Christian prisoners of religious faith. “For six years, they have violated all these people’s right and have not cared about it.”
Though the settlement does not include monetary damages, the case will cost the department about $100,000 in plaintiff attorney fees, he said.
The department had attempted to have the case thrown out, citing the heavy costs involved as well as claiming that “while some Jewish prisoners may want a greater variety of food and and to consume dairy products and kosher meat, the MDOC is not obligated to provide … them,” he said.
Prisoners covered by the settlement are those listed as Jewish in prison records and who requested religious meals.