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Indiana DOC Must Offer Passover Diet

by Lonnie Burton

The Indiana Department of Corrections (IDOC) agreed after being sued to provide a Passover diet to a prisoner who was denied the meals under a prison policy that said prisoners not on a kosher diet the remainder of the year would not be permitted to participate in the eight-day Passover. The undated agreement said that it takes effect starting Passover 2017.

Brian Woodring, a state prisoner housed at the private GBO Corporation-run New Castle Correctional Facility in Indiana, and a Jewish man, said he was denied Passover meals in spring 2016. He said IDOC provides kosher-for-Passover meals only to prisoners who are approved for, and receive, a kosher diet the remainder of the year.

Woodring sued IDOC and New Castle officialsin federal court alleging the policy violates his religious rights under the Religious Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc, et seq. Woodring's claim was based on the belief that "as a Jew he must keep kosher for the Passover holiday and receive kosher-for-Passover meals." He said it was not unusual for Jews who "do not keep kosher during the year" to avoid leavened products during Passover, and that the IDOC policy violates his religious freedoms.

In his complaint, Woodring wrote that he was "obligated to eat a kosher­-for-Passover diet and (IDOC's) failure to provide him one is imposing a substantial and unjustified burden on his religious exercise."

The parties later entered into a "private settlement agreement," enforceable only in state court under breach of contract law, which called for Woodring to receive a Passover diet starting in 2017, even if he does not receive kosher mealsthroughout the year. The agreement did not specify if it applied to all Indiana prisoners.

Woodring received no monetary compensation, and each party agreed to pay its own costs and attorney's fees. Kenneth J. Falk of the ACLU of Indiana represented Woodring in the case.

See: Woodring v. Commissioner, Indiana Department of Correction, No. 1:16-cv-02855-RLY-MPB (U.S.D.C. S.D. IN).

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Related legal case

Woodring v. Commissioner, Indiana Department of Correction