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Many Nevada Jewish Prisoners Opting Out of Proposed Kosher Meals

On August 12, 2012, a Nevada federal court approved a notice of proposed settlement of a class-action civil rights lawsuit brought by a Jewish Nevada state prisoner over the announced intent of the Nevada Department of Corrections (DOC) to cease offering kosher meals to Jewish prisoners. However, 45 of the 300 of Nevada prisoners who were previously receiving kosher meals have objected to the meal plan proposed in the settlement.

As a result of the settlement of previous federal civil rights litigation, Jewish DOC prisoners were provided with kosher meals at an annual cost to the DOC of about $1.5 million. The meals came from a free-world catering service and were individually wrapped in disposable trays. In 2011, the DOC announced its intention to cease providing kosher meals and require all prisoners to eat a non-kosher "common fare" diet.

Assisted by Las Vegas attorneys Jacob L. Hafter and Michael Naethe, Toward Ackerman, 52, an Orthodox Jewish LOC prisoner, filed a federal class-action civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1S83 alleging that the change in the kosher diet policy violated his First Amendment rights and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc. The court approved the class to include three subclasses summarized as follows: (1) DOC prisoners who are practicing Orthodox Jews and receiving the current kosher diet; (2) LOC prisoners whose sincerely-held religious beliefs require a kosher diet and submitted an affidavit of inclusion to class counsel; and (3) LOC prisoners currently receiving the kosher diet by previous court order. Ackerman later amended his suit to include a claim of a transfer to another prison and denial of the then-still-available kosher meals in retaliation for his filing the lawsuit.

The court had issued an injunction to prevent the non-kosher meals from being served to Ackerman or any of the nearly 300 other prisoners receiving kosher meals who wanted to join the injunction.

The parties th3en agreed to a settlement. The settlement requires the DOC to receive kosher certification by the non-profit organization Scroll K/Vaad haKashrus of DOC kitchen facilities used to prepare kosher meals onsite. It requires that such kosher meals be made available to class members and that the meal plan be certified by a rabbi as being kosher and certified by a DOC-hired nutritionist as providing "proper nutritional values for the dietary requirements of an adult make between the ages of 21-55 years with moderate physical activity (30 minutes or more)." It also requires the DOC to maintain the certifications and to make the kosher meal plan available to class members in minimum security facilities and conservation camps as well as higher security prisons.

In preparation for the settlement, the court approved a notice to be distributed to DOC prisoners. The notice included information on how to object to the settlement. Many prisoners did just that.

Nearly 300 DOC prisoners were receiving kosher meals under the previous court decision. 45 of them objected to the new kosher meal plan on the grounds that the food is not up to the standards of the meals served to the rest of the DOC prisoner population.

Examination of the proposed kosher common fare menu reveals that the objecting prisoners may have a point. The meals seem sparse at best.

The Nevada Board of Examiners has already approved a contract to provide kosher kitchens and rabbinical supervision of kosher food preparation. See: Ackerman v. State of Nevada Department of Corrections, U.S.D.C.-D.Nev.,Case Ro. 2:11-cv-00883-GiwN-PAL.

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Related legal case

Ackerman v. State of Nevada Department of Corrections