The decision to provide kosher food came after a meeting between the Secretary of the DPSCS and representatives of the Jewish community last summer. “Correctional facilities mirror society, many people of many different faiths,” Governor Martin O’Malley said in a statement. “In America, people of every faith are entitled to practice that faith to the fullest extent possible, even in a correctional setting.”
The DPSCS’s decision affects approximately 130 Maryland prisoners who are registered as Jewish or are members of the House of Yahweh or Assembly of Yahweh. They will receive three kosher meals a day.
Maryland’s decision follows a recent trend among prison systems to offer kosher food. The Federal Bureau of Prisons, long a provider of kosher cuisine, has over 5,360 prisoners who receive pre-packaged kosher meals each day. New York’s prison system operates a certified kosher kitchen that prepares food for around 3,000 prisoners statewide. In 2007, the Texas Dept. of Criminal Justice established a kosher kitchen at the Stringfellow Unit, near Houston. While more states have started offering kosher meals, others have cut their kosher food programs or eliminated them entirely. In Florida, for example, the Department of Corrections discontinued its Jewish Dietary Accommodation Program in August 2007, citing higher costs and issues of inequality.
Despite setbacks in states like Florida, advocating for kosher food remains a high priority for Jewish prisoner advocates like Rabbi Shmuel Kaplan of Chabad Lubavitch. “The opportunity to worship freely is enshrined in the founding documents of this country and it behooves the government to make a special effort in that regard,” said Kaplan.
In a 2007 survey, 26 of the 34 states that responded said they provided kosher food to prisoners; others offered vegan or vegetarian meals to accommodate prisoners’ religious beliefs. In regard to the latter meals being acceptable substitutes for kosher food, Gary Friedman, chairman of Jewish Prisoner Services International, stated, “You can’t have substantially kosher, partially kosher. It’s either kosher or it isn’t.”
Some prison systems also offer halal meals for Muslim prisoners.
Sources: www.jewishtimes.com, www.nwanews.com, Associated Press
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