Jewish inmates will receive kosher meals as a result of a class action lawsuit.
A class-action settlement following a lawsuit brought about by the Michigan American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is ensuring that up to two-hundred prisoners in the state will start to receive certified kosher meals. Six years ago, the Michigan Department of Corrections introduced a vegan meal that was supposed to serve as a religious food option for those incarcerated who are not Christian. That caused Gerald Ackerman and other Jewish prisoners to file a case indicating a vegan diet and a kosher diet are not the same thing and there should not be a one-size-fits-all meal offered.
“A vegan diet is based on Buddhist beliefs and practices,” former prisoner Michael Arnold said, adding, “The plaintiffs do not hold such beliefs.”
Part of the original 2013 suit, Arnold was dropped when he was released from prison. However, he also said “the policy of enforced vegetarianism is targeted specifically at prisoners who are Jewish.”
According to the filling, “A vegan diet lacks kosher meat and dairy products and the department uses non-kosher items in preparing the meals and non-kosher equipment, utensils, and areas to prepare and serve them.”
The proposed settlement will undergo a fairness hearing before U.S. District Judge Linda Parker, nominated for a seat by former president Barack Obama, and is asking that the “meals be prepared in prison kitchens that are certified kosher or purchased from an outside kosher vendor.” The settlement terms were agreed to by the Department of Corrections and will require the department to provide a certified kosher lunch and dinner each day to the class members.
A separate ruling asking that prisoners receive kosher meat and dairy products on the Sabbath and certain Jewish holidays was the subject of a bench trial before Parker, and that is still pending.
Daniel Manville, director of the civil rights clinic at MSU’s College of Law, said many of the prisoners he represents have suffered since 2013 by being forced to eat meals that are non-kosher. “It was stupid to do it that way without also certifying the kitchen as kosher,” he said of the department using one vegan meal. “For six years, they have violated all these people’s right and have not cared about it.”
the Attorney General’s Office argued on behalf of the department in 2015 that there are extensive procedures that have been put into place to avoid cross-contamination. The office stated, “The MDOC has substantial measures in place to protect against cross-contamination of food.”
“The increased costs associated with enacting additional measures to stop cross-contamination would do substantial harm to others, particularly the overburdened taxpayers of the state of Michigan,” said assistant Attorney General John Thurber, who added, “Also, while some Jewish prisoners may want a greater variety of food and to consume dairy products and kosher meat, the MDOC is not obligated to provide them.”
Those who will receive kosher meals are covered by records systems within prisons. The staff will know specifically which prisoners are to receive the required meals based on religious preference. Those who do not require kosher meals and snacks will continue to receive standard menu items.