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ACLU Prompts Kansas Jail to Change Religious Meals, Mail Policies

ACLU Prompts Kansas Jail to Change Religious Meals, Mail Policies

by Joe Watson

Prisoners at the Allen County jail in Iola, Kansas had been forced to violate their religious beliefs or go hungry until the ACLU persuaded jail officials to honor the U.S. Constitution.

According to the jail’s former policies on meals, per the prisoner handbook, “No one will be allowed to have special food for diets based on religious or other related reasons. You can simply choose not to eat.”

Such a policy, of course, violates state and federal laws that require correctional facilities to accommodate prisoners’ religious beliefs, noted Doug Bonney, legal director of the ACLU Foundation of Kansas. Bonney, in a letter addressed to Allen County officials, described the policy as unconstitutional because it required prisoners to “choose between starvation and remaining true to their religious creeds.”

While Allen County attorney Alan Weber said the policy in the handbook was old and agreed to remove it, he claimed that, for at least two decades, not a single prisoner had made a special food request based on religious preferences.

“I’ve been here 20 years and it’s not happened,” he said.

The Allen County jail and the ACLU crossed paths again when a prisoner notified the ACLU in April 2014 that the jail did not allow subscriptions to magazines or newspapers. In response to a prisoner’s request form, a jail official wrote, “[t]he jail does not allow newspapers or magazines no exceptions!!!!!!!”

However, after Bonney sent another letter to the county, informing them that such a policy violates the First Amendment, the county again relented.

Sources: Associated Press, https://aclukansas.org

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