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Idaho DOC Agrees to Provide Kosher Meals, Pay $93,000 Settlement

In August 2017, the Idaho Department of Correction (IDOC) agreed to provide kosher meals in state prisons to partially settle a lawsuit brought by four Jewish prisoners represented by the ACLU of Idaho.

While the IDOC’s internal “Handbook for Religious Beliefs and Practices” states that prisoners will receive a kosher diet upon request, prison officials maintained it did not require any religious-specific diet. To address growing concerns over that policy, in 2016 the IDOC implemented a new “common fare” diet that included vegan foods plus dairy or kosher meal items, without mixing the two.

“What it seems to do is it seems to satisfy requirements for a halal diet, without actually meeting the requirements for a kosher diet,” said Richard Eppink, legal director for the ACLU of Idaho. The result, he added, is that the IDOC had a diet for every religion except Judaism.

That changed with the August 11, 2017 partial settlement agreement, which resulted in Idaho – like Florida, Indiana and Texas – being forced through litigation to comply with prisoners’ right to receive kosher meals in accordance with their religious beliefs.

The agreement required the IDOC to implement a “No-Touch diet system” by November 1, 2017 for all prisoners who requested kosher meals. Under that system, a majority of the meals will be “pre-packaged or double-sealed frozen meals that are kosher certified.” Except for restrictive housing units (RHUs), “all meals will be served unprepared and may be heated in a microwave by the prisoner receiving them.” In RHUs, “a staff member will heat frozen meals and ensure that the double seal remains unbroken. If the double seal is broken during heating, the prisoner will receive a new meal where the seal is unbroken.”

Further, “Friday dinner through Saturday dinner will consist of lunch meals that can be eaten cold so that inmates may observe the rules of no heating on the Sabbath, if they choose.”

The settlement also provides for meal variety. The 28-day menu must “include at least 19 different main entrees offered over breakfast, lunch, and dinner.” The menu will be altered for Passover to ensure it is “certified kosher for Passover.”

The agreement includes monitoring by the ACLU for six months and specifies the federal district court will retain jurisdiction to enforce the settlement. On October 4, 2017, the parties agreed to an offer of judgment made under Fed.R.Civ.P. 68 in the amount of $93,000, inclusive of attorneys’ fees and costs, to resolve the lawsuit.

“For years, Jewish inmates in Idaho prisons have had to choose between going hungry or violating tenets of their faith,” said Craig Durham with the Furguson & Durham law firm, who acted as co-counsel representing the plaintiffs. “It is because the prisoners in this case decided to take a stand for equal justice under law that the Idaho Department of Correction has changed its longstanding practice of denying kosher meals to the observant.” See: Bartlett v. Atencio, U.S.D.C. (D. Idaho), Case No. 1:17-cv-00191-CWD.

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Related legal case

Bartlett v. Atencio