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Prisoner Education Guide

Federal Judge Orders Washington Prison Officials to Properly Feed Ramadan Participants

by Christopher Zoukis

In what could be the fastest injunction ever granted in a prison-related case, U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Leighton issued a temporary retraining order in favor of Muslim prisoners mere hours after they filed a lawsuit alleging that Washington prison officials were refusing to honor fasting requirements during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

The lawsuit, filed by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) on behalf of four men held at the Washington State Reformatory in Monroe, said the facility’s rigidly enforced Ramadan sign-up policy resulted in some Muslims not being able to eat. According to CAIR, the four prisoners lost an average of 20 pounds each between the beginning of Ramadan in mid-May and the day the lawsuit was filed on June 10, 2018.

One of the plaintiffs, Jeremy Livingston, said he arrived at the prison after the Ramadan sign-up date at the end of January, and was denied meals despite requesting them when he got there.

Other prisoners who were denied Ramadan meals resorted to “stealing” their regular meals so they could be consumed between sundown and sunrise, as required by their religion. But when guards learned that non-approved Muslims were in possession of contraband food, they conducted “random” searches of their cells in order to confiscate the food. When approved Muslims tried to share their Ramadan meals with their unapproved brethren, the shared meals were also taken.

One prisoner who was denied Ramadan meals lost so much weight that guards threatened to force-feed him (but not between sundown and sunrise).

Lena Masri, CAIR’s national litigation director, praised Judge Leighton’s quick action in granting the temporary restraining order.

“Muslim inmates have been starved and their health is in danger as a result of the Monroe Correctional Complex’s shameful starvation policy,” said Masri. “We welcome the federal court’s swift intervention, which will bring this health crisis to an end and ensure that Muslim inmates are not starved and brutalized for practicing the fundamental principles of their faith.”

A prison system spokesperson told the Associated Press that prison officials immediately took action on the judge’s order, which lasted until the end of Ramadan three days later.

“The Washington Department of Corrections takes very seriously the health and welfare of those sentenced to incarceration in the state’s correctional facilities and was immediately responsive to the court order,” said spokesperson Jeremy Barclay. Of course, the DOC’s change of heart came only after a federal court ordered them to take action.

“Muslim inmates are simply asking for the right to practice their religion while incarcerated,” observed Jasmin Samy, the civil rights director of CAIR’s Washington state chapter. “To deny them is discriminatory and unconstitutional.”

The case remains pending. See: Roberts v. Sinclair, U.S.D.C. (W.D. Wash.), Case No. 2:18-cv-00837-RSM.

In May 2018, another federal judge issued a similar order requiring Alaska prison officials to provide nutritiously adequate meals to Muslim prisoners observing Ramadan. That lawsuit was also filed by CAIR, and involved prisoners held at the Anchorage Correctional Complex. 

Additional sources: Associated Press, www.spokesman.com, Huffington Post

 

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Roberts v. Sinclair


 

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