Judge Orders Federal Oversight Of Kosher Meals In Florida Prisons

August 18, 2015

Over the objections of Florida corrections officials, a federal judge has given the U.S. Department of Justice the authority to oversee the state’s kosher-meal program for prisoners.

U.S. District Judge Patricia Seitz last week issued a final order and permanent injunction in the drawn-out case, granting federal officials’ request to monitor the kosher meals, called the “Religious Dietary Program,” through visits to prisons.

Seitz’s final order also requires the Florida Department of Corrections to file monthly reports about the use of the program with both the court and the Justice Department, and to file quarterly reports regarding prisoners who were suspended or removed from it.

On Monday, it remained unclear whether the state — which has spent at least $400,000 in legal costs and fees in lawsuits over kosher meals — would appeal the order.

“The department is thoroughly evaluating the ruling in order to determine the appropriate next steps,” corrections spokesman McKinley Lewis said in an email.

Throughout the current lawsuit and a predecessor, the state has maintained that it is not obligated to offer the meals although the religious diet is a requirement of the federal “Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act” law of 2000.

Corrections officials were willing to provide records of the program but objected to onsite monitoring. But in the order Wednesday, Seitz found that external oversight of the state’s Religious Dietary Program, or RDP, is necessary.

“Quite simply, given defendants’ refusal to recognize their legal obligation to provide kosher meals, to rely only on defendants’ self monitoring as the sole form of on-site monitoring of the RDP would be unreasonable,” she wrote.

Seitz banned the department from using a “zero-tolerance” policy that removed inmates from the kosher-meal plan if they were caught eating regular meals or purchasing non-kosher food from the canteen, something corrections officials have already abandoned. And her order also bars prison officials from kicking inmates off the kosher plan if the prisoners miss 10 percent or more of their meals in a month, another policy the department says it has discontinued.

Seitz sided with the department regarding a “sincerity” test used to ferret out prisoners who lack a genuine reason to get the kosher meals, saying the screening does not violate federal law as long as it is not the only factor used to determine if inmates are eligible for the program.

If it stands, Seitz’s oversight order will be the first time Florida’s prison system has been subjected to open-ended, onsite monitoring by the court and the Justice Department in decades.

“It is a big deal,” said Luke Goodrich, deputy general counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which sued the state on behalf of Bruce Rich, an Orthodox Jew who was denied a kosher diet. Rich dropped his case in December after Seitz gave the agency until July 1 to offer kosher meals to “all prisoners with a sincere religious basis for keeping kosher.”

Seitz’s order “takes Florida to task for how stubborn it has been throughout all this litigation,” similar to “a school principal talking to a stubborn and deceptive schoolchild,” Goodrich said.

“It’s really unfortunate that it came to this for the state of Florida. It didn’t have to be like this at all. Thirty-five other states have put in place a kosher diet without having to lose in court and be put under monitoring by the federal government,” he said.

The fight over kosher meals in Florida prisons has dragged on for more than a decade.

The department started offering the kosher meals in 2004 to Jewish prisoners at 13 facilities and transferred inmates who were eligible for the meals to those institutions. The agency expanded the program to inmates of all faiths in 2006 but halted it the following year before reinstating it as a pilot project at a single prison in 2010, serving fewer than 20 prisoners.

A year after the Department of Justice filed the lawsuit in 2012, the department again began serving kosher meals and promised to have the meals available to all inmates by last July.

Last summer, the department switched to all-cold meals, consisting largely of peanut butter and sardines, served twice a day, prompting some inmates to complain that the unappetizing diet was aimed at discouraging prisoners from signing up for the plan.

Corrections officials had argued that the cost of the kosher meals, an option not only for Jewish prisoners but for Muslim and Seventh-Day Adventists whose religions also proscribe dietary restrictions, could cost the state up to $12 million a year because the food cost nearly twice as much as the $1.89 a day spent on regular grub. About 11,000 of the state’s 100,000 prisoners are now receiving the kosher meals, according to Lewis.

The battle over the kosher meals is a relatively minor issue for a department that has been under intensive scrutiny for more than a year over inmate deaths, allegations of abuse and accusations of cover-ups.

Florida Justice Institute Executive Director Randall Berg, who represents inmates, said he hopes Seitz’s order is a first step toward broader oversight, especially from Justice Department officials. Berg and the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida have asked the agency’s Civil Rights Division to investigate unsolved deaths and allegations of widespread brutality in Florida prisons.

“There are serious problems in Florida’s prison system, of which newspapers across the state have been writing now for years. Hopefully, the Civil Rights Division will be taking a serious look at many of the other issues in addition to this one,” Berg said.

Pictured: The cafeteria inside the Century Correctional Institution. NorthEscambia.com file photo, click to enlarge.


23 Responses to “Judge Orders Federal Oversight Of Kosher Meals In Florida Prisons”

  1. Too much frustration on September 24th, 2015 7:24 am

    It’s weird reading all the comments, but do people not deserve some kind of dignity behind bars. It’s a meal and we are not say steak and lobster. I totally understand that people who commit crimes and must do time. Got it! I also know that 80% of the criminals that are in prison committed non-violent crimes. They range from drug abuse to the average homeless guy that stole a whole chicken from your location Publix just to have a meal that day. We the people of this country need to at least understand that most of these people will return back to society. There are two private correctional corporations that finance both campaign parties and they run some of these correctional institutions. They have taken steps to privatizing prison in which I’m morally against. The idea of someone making a dollar by putting someone else in jail just calls for corruption. Maybe that’s answer of the increase of incarceration in some of these prision. It’s just a thought!

  2. David Huie Green on August 21st, 2015 5:47 pm

    “It’s all about the dollar. How can it not be when crime has steadily decreased in Florida over 20 years? Yet prison population has grown 46% in the same time period.”

    Long ago, folks noticed something like 90% of ALL crimes were committed by something like 10% of all criminals.
    They wrote the laws to keep the repeat offenders in prison where they could no longer prey upon the helpless.

    Prison population went up as they were locked in.
    Crime went down as they were locked away.

    Releasing them because crime is down is a way of saying we want more crime committed against the poor and helpless.

    I would like to see crime head toward zero.

    David for safer people

  3. David Huie Green on August 21st, 2015 3:32 pm

    “2/3 of the New Testament of the Bible was written by a prisoner (multiple time offender).”

    Ah, but was he really an offender of the law or was he falsely accused for political reasons and held by corrupt officials looking in vain for bribes?

    Luke reports it to have been the latter.

    David for better people

  4. David Huie Green on August 21st, 2015 3:24 pm

    “The department promotes homosexuality. ”

    It’s funny to think the Department of Corrections could convert heterosexuals into homosexuals when nobody has really ever successfully done the reverse and they can’t force outlaws to become law abiding citizens despite centuries of trying.

    David for kosher vegan meals
    (Lima beans, blackeyed peas, lentils, for examples)

  5. Micah on August 20th, 2015 4:20 pm

    People make mistakes. Going to prison can be, if you allow it, the best thing that happens to some people. They get a chance to learn and reevaluate their lives. Going to prison does not forfiet your religious rights. Some of the most sincere religious people were in prison at one time. 2/3 of the New Testament of the Bible was written by a prisoner (multiple time offender). MANY people have done things that could put them in prison, they just didn’t get caught. Most people who go to prison will get out one day. How they are treated and rehabilitated will determine how they are when they do. If you put a dog in a cage and then poke him with a stick everyday, do you think he will come out a better dog? Or, do you think he might bite you? Think about it.

  6. A on August 20th, 2015 10:39 am

    Wow. I would think if a person ended up in prison by doing wrong, they forfeit their right to the diet they feel more comfortable eating. Yet, all humans should eat kosher food. What are we.. not humane?

  7. Wharf Rat on August 19th, 2015 10:36 pm

    Lord bless the “detainees.” They have a lot of time to get in the CO’s face. But one thing about it, they can’t be detained for their new found beliefs.

  8. John on August 19th, 2015 9:21 pm

    Why is it that there has yet to be a judge ask these conveniently religious convicts to produce their religion’s.particular holy book and point out exactly where it is written that their religion either commands or allows for the crime they have been convicted of? All the focus is on the DOC violating these inmates’ religious tenets, yet they are likely in prison for violating one or many tenets of any religion. Someone tell me about a religion that commands it’s followers to murder, rob, rape, burglarize, engage in pedophilia, mug, purse snatch, kidnap or any of the whole host of crimes people are in prison for. It would appear that the only “religion” that has an argument here is islam, as islam, the koran and sharia law require that muslims kill non-muslims, lie to non-muslims(taquiyaa), permit the rape of young girls and otherwise engage in a whole host of activities that are otherwise prohibited by the societal norms and laws of decent, civilized societies. Just once I would like the issue to be put back on those who break not only the laws of our nation, but also violate the tenets of most religions that they suddenly and conveniently hold so dear

  9. chris in Molino on August 19th, 2015 9:13 pm

    @Working officer
    You are correct about officers not eating the prison food (for 98%)
    However, regarding assaults, why is that ? Because FAC does not apply to officers even though it’s utilized to the t against inmates. When the female staff won their “gunning” lawsuit against the department, they were right. The department promotes homosexuality. Taking away any sexually stimulating magazine or picture (in the guise of why everything is taken, “security threat”) yet letting homosexuals walk on the compound holding hands and kissing their daddy. Using m&m’s melted down as make-up. Cutting the rear end down the crack of trousers to pull it together to be re-sewn so the pants fit tighter in the butt. Utilizing homosexual snitches (most are) to garner information about rule violations, even trading for info by bunk or dorm changes, or getting a fellow homo or “daddy” out of confinement or a dr.
    Packages : a “security threat ” cause thats how drugs were coming in. Uh, no. The department seen how many millions of dollars were being spent by families sending their loved ones silk pjs, leather slippers, super 2 radios, pro 25 headphones, new jordan shoes, etc.that they weren’t getting a piece of. Use “security threat ” buy cheap garbage that their forced to buy cause we’ve taken all their personal items, inflate the price 500% and there you go.
    Phone: FY”99 MCI awarded contract because they gave FDOC 55% of totalc ost of call.
    PRIDE- (Example) Calhoun CI shipped out 45k pounds of catfish per week paying labor of .25-.45 cents an hour. Then there was soap, dairy farm, chicken farm, mattress factory, tag plant, dental lab, furniture factory, clothing, chemicals, paint, and on and on. Fy”99 Fdoc profited $28m off canteen sales.
    Its all aboutt he dollar. How can it not be when crime has steadily decreased in Florida over 20 years. Yet prison population has grown 46% in the same time period.
    Takig ciggarettes but gaurds still dip snuff.
    I can go on and on but its sick. Keep taking, being more ugly, making more rules, and you’ll have even more violence. More animal behavior. You work there so you support all the above amoung numerous other things.

  10. Working Officer on August 19th, 2015 12:46 pm

    To the ExFdoc: If you spent any time in Florida’s Prison system, then you know as well as everyone working in there, the staff does not eat at the prison. The food is monitered better than a schools and the inmates complain about everything. The vegetables are usually fresh and grown right in Jay. I am really sick of seeing all the bad comments and press coverage about the staff. I have not read anywhere about the 32+ Officer assualts that have occured at Century CI this year alone. Nor have I heard anything about Officers not getting any raises for seven years or the fact that their contract was broken by charging them for their retirement. If the public really saw the menu at the prison they would be outraged. Who really eats dessert , a meat, two vegetables and a starch at every meal. Wish I could afford to feed my family that way. Do the crime and the puinshment is not really all that bad anymore.

  11. MR.FUSTRATED on August 19th, 2015 9:08 am

    If you stay out of prison you can eat what you want to eat.That’s why staff can’t get a raise cause all the money is being spent on the inmates.Apparently some people higher up has a lot of inmates in their family.

  12. Michael Masitis on August 19th, 2015 8:40 am

    I wonder if any of the commentators have served time in a prison before they negatively spout-off about kosher meals. It appears those negative commentators are not of Jewish, Muslim nor Seventh-day Adventists faith, they haven’t studied the Holy Bible or the Koran. I’m of the Christian faith (Seventh-day Adventists) and my God (from the Holy Bible) says not to eat unclean foods..God doesn’t change His mind, it is written. I did serve time in a federal prison (for a non-violet crime), yet trying to be allowed a kosher diet was a nightmare. I became a Seventh-day Adventists in the early stage of my federal prison sentence, yet the Chaplains at my first federal prison failed to change my requested religious preference from, “No Preference” to “Seventh-day Adventists in their computer data base. When I complained about this failure, finally it was corrected. I still wasn’t allowed kosher meals because a prison Chaplain told me (in the prison Chaplain’s office), he wasn’t able to verify my religious preference from his prison office. In this Chaplain’s office, I asked him if I could watch what he was doing on the computer to possibly help him to verify my religious preference and so he could supply me with the needed kosher request form. I was able to detect the computer error, as someone had changed the computer’s port for its default printer, so that my religious preference would be in a printed format. These errors by prison chaplains took several weeks to get correctly done. At that same federal prison (California), the Kosher meals were changed from primarily vegetarian to pre-made kosher meals that were loaded in salt and tasteless. So, before anyone goes spouting-off about their denial of First Amendment Constitutional Rights (Those Rights are still valid for prisoners, except the Right to Bear Arms and voting rights [Main and Vermont prisons allow prisoners the Right to Vote), maybe they should study the Constitution of the United States of America. When I was in grade school (elementary school) 6th grade (57 years ago), students were required to memorize the Preamble to this great country’s constitution and all the amendments to it.. I constantly review this constitution and its amendments to stay aware of their messages to all Americans. Americans fought and died for those rights. It saddens me when Americans give an uneducated opinion about the spirit of our constitution.

  13. BPD on August 19th, 2015 7:18 am

    Just set up a buffet. Next they’ll want maid service complete with imported chocolates on their goose down pillow.

    Give me a break. Give them day old bread, lunch meat and water.

  14. Jib on August 19th, 2015 6:55 am

    If you don’t want lousy prison food then here is a thought: DON’T BREAK THE LAW.

  15. Kurt on August 19th, 2015 4:47 am

    Does the Department of corrections offer the same “sincerity test” to inmates converting to the “christian” faith before offering the sacrament of baptism or communion? It seems to me that there ought to be some action on the discrimination and equal protection fronts.

    I understand that in the christian faith one can pray over a plate of worms and that makes it food and renders it fit to eat!

  16. Ex-FDOC on August 18th, 2015 3:31 pm

    In Florida prisons, the meat isn’t meat (TVP), the milk isn’t milk (nondairy powdery stuff), the bread isn’t bread (no yeast), hot dogs are anybody’s guess but not meat, fruit is rarely served, and what vegetables there are (usually cabbage) is cooked to mush and served cold. Feeding inmates unhealthy pseudo-food affects inmate health and staff safety. The kosher meals are actual food, so of course non-Jewish inmates want it and FDOC doesn’t want to serve it, or administrate the program, or have outsiders into their filthy kitchens where any decent food and food donations are skimmed by staff.

  17. MR.FUSTRATED on August 18th, 2015 9:40 am

    Wow why don’t we just give them steak dinners ,hamburgers, spaghetti dinners and so forth and lets not forget their comforter sets and everything else for these wonderful angels!

  18. Sharon on August 18th, 2015 8:24 am

    What’s the latest on the earn your degree program while locked up? That seems like a better investment so these guys and gals can get jobs when released and contribute to society.

  19. mick on August 18th, 2015 8:23 am

    You eat what is served…IT’S PRISON!… and by the way be thankful you have a roof, a cot and 3 squares a day, you sniveling criminals.

  20. Duke of Wawbeek on August 18th, 2015 8:04 am

    No kosher meals for the shiksa, or the shegetz. Shalom.

  21. Ron McAndrew on August 18th, 2015 5:12 am

    If an inmate of Jewish faith eats a non-kosher food item, it’s a violation of his faith and has absolutely nothing to do with violating DOC rules and regulations. As a Catholic I’ve failed my faith at times by eating a meat dish on Friday during Lent. It’s the same darn thing. The more rules and regulations such an organization publishes the more friction, law suits and nonsense the organization has to deal with. Serve the darn meals and leave the intent of faith up to the person involved for goodness sake.

  22. Mary Lynn McDavid on August 18th, 2015 5:12 am

    The last thing the DOC ever wants is outside inspectors. Everything is self-regulated, which really means it is not.

  23. c.w. on August 18th, 2015 4:33 am

    Some idiot judge and the aclu needs to find something important to do, like getting the correction officers a decent wage. The inmates should be getting enough food to survive on and nothing more. They are not there because they are “nice guys”.