by Jacob Barrett
On April 19, 2022, Georgia’s DeKalb County Jail (DCJ) and county Sheriff Melody M. Maddox filed a stipulation in a civil suit agreeing to provide religious meals for Muslim prisoners observing daylight fasts during Ramadan.
The suit was brought by Norman Simmonds, who was detained at DCJ on murder charges in September 2021. When Ramadan arrived on April 1, 2022, the devout Muslim found the jail unaccommodating, “offering Muslims no food on some days, offering meals on some days only when Simmonds and other Muslims must refrain from eating, and on other days providing about a third of the food given to others,” according to the complaint he later filed.
With the aid of attorneys from the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) — including Murtaza Khwaja, Javeria Jamil, and Lena F. Masri in Atlanta, along with Gadeir Abbas, Justin Sadowsky, and Kimberly Noe-Lehenbauer in Washington, DC — Simmonds sued Maddox and her jail under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for refusing to provide religious meals to him and other Muslim prisoners, in violation of their First Amendment right to freedom of religion.
“We welcome the settlement of this lawsuit and hope it becomes a model for correctional facilities in Georgia and nationwide,” said Jamil, CAIR’s legal and policy director in Georgia.
Added Khwaja, Executive Director of the nonprofit in the state: “Prisons and jails across Georgia should take heed and examine their own Ramadan policies in light of this agreement to ensure that they are not in violation of federal law and that the constitutionally-enshrined rights of all Muslim detainees and incarcerees are protected.”
Among other things, Maddox stipulated that she must approve requests for kosher meals by Muslim detainees and provide the meals in the same form as provided to Jewish prisoners. Meals must provide a total of 2,600 calories per day and must meet or exceed all federal and state laws, regulations, standards, and guidelines for nutrition.
Maddox is also required to keep a log of food items provided along with caloric values and nutritional information, as well as times meals are delivered — crucial for a daylight fast — providing the log upon request by Simmonds or the Court. The Sheriff also agreed not to take away commissary privileges from fasting Muslim prisoners during Ramadan.
The stipulation anticipates a settlement will eventually be reached in the case. PLN will report further developments as they become available. See: Simmonds v. Maddox, USDC (N.D. Ga.), Case No. 22-cv-01479.
According to a 2019 study by the nonprofit Muslim Advocates, the religion is over-represented in U.S. state prisons, where 9% of prisoners are Muslim, though only 1% of Americans are. In D.C., Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania, the share of prisoners practicing Islam is nearly 20% or higher.
Additional source: Middle East Eye
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