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Court Orders Oversight of Florida Prisoner Kosher Meal Program

In ordering the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) to provide prisoners with kosher meals, the federal district court overseeing the litigation brought by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) overruled FDOC”s objection to giving DOJ oversight authority into compliance with the injunction.

PLN previously reported on the court’s April 30, 2014 grant of summary judgement to DOJ.  See PLN Florida Prison System Ordered to Provide Kosher Meals.

The court held further hearings in an effort to work out the details of an injunction, but the parties were unable to agree to the language to be used on all issues.

The court found a verification of a kosher diet was necessary to avoid vagueness.  On that point, the court defined kosher diet as “food prepared consistent with the requirements recognized by a religious authority qualified to determine whether food is kosher.”

It was further found by the court that “given Defendants’ continual refusal to acknowledge that they are required by law to provide a kosher diet to those prisoners with a sincere religious belief requiring them to keep kosher, auditing procedures are necessary.”

The injunction requires FDOC to report each month the number of prisoners enrolled in the Religious Diet Program (RDP) overall and a breakdown of each prison.  Each quarter, FDOC is required to submit a summary report on the number of prisoners who potentially violated the RDP, the basis for those violations, the number of notices of violation issued, and the disposition of those notices.  The DOJ shall identify five prisons quarterly, and FDOC will provide DOJ with the Notice of Violation forms from those prisons.

The court further required FDOC to provide DOJ with “reasonable access to personnel, prisoners and the food preparation, food serving, and dining areas” of its prisons.

Finally, the court found “[t]raining procedures are also necessary to ensure that prison personnel are uniformly applying the rules and procedures of the RDP across the state’s sixty-plus prison[s].

FDOC was not pleased with the order, stating it was considering its legal options.  Throughout the litigation, FDOC argued that not only was it not required by law to provide prisoners with kosher meals, but that it could not afford to provide those meals.  Yet FDOC spent at least $400,000 fighting the lawsuit as of August 18.  In the end, FDOC decided to appeal, which will result in further costs.

The court’s order “takes Florida to task for how stubborn it has been throughout all this litigation, “similar to a school principal talking to a stubborn and deceptive school child,” said Luke Goedrich, deputy counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.  “It’s really unfortunate that it came to this for the state of Florida.  It didn’t have to be like this at all.  Thirty five other states have put in place a kosher diet without having to lose in court and be put under monitoring by the federal government”. See: Rich v Crews, USDC, N.D. Florida, Case No: 1:10-cv-157-MP-GRJ.


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Related legal case

Rich v Crews