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Pennsylvania DOC Settles Religious Dietary Suit

On December 26, 2006, the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) agreed to provide substitute meals to state prisoner Alfonso Pew whenever pork is served.

Pew claimed that while imprisoned in the Restrictive Housing Unit, prison officials refused to provide peanut butter or any other substitute to prisoners who, like himself, could not eat pork for religious reasons.

In his lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, Pew contended that prison officials interfered with his religious rights under the First Amendment, the Equal Protection Clause, and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RULIPA). Pew further asserted a claim under the Eighth Amendment arguing that the prison?s failure to provide him with a pork substitute rendered the meals nutritionally inadequate and thus amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.

The Court dismissed Pew?s Eighth Amendment claim after finding that he failed to exhaust his administrative remedies as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA). Specifically, the Court held, Pew had not individually listed the prison officials in his grievance against whom he subsequently filed suit.

The DOC settled Pew?s remaining claim by agreeing to provide him with ?three nutritionally balanced, vegetarian, non-dairy, non-egg, non-sugar-substitute meals per day by way of either a modified Kosher bag ? or the alternative protein diet, or a combination of both?.? Also under the agreement the Court will retain jurisdiction to enforce the agreement. Thus, if the DOC violates the settlement in the future, Pew can simply file a ?Motion to Enforce Settlement Agreement? rather than proceeding with a new lawsuit.

Pew was represented by pro bono counsel appointed by the Court. See: Pew v. Torma, USDC WD PA, Case No. 2:03-CV-01728-LPL.

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Related legal case

Pew v. Torma

The complaint and settlement are available in the brief bank.