November 20, 2008

New Prison Dining Policies More Fully Accommodate Religious Life Of Prisoners

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: (212) 549-2666; media@aclu.org

RAWLINS, WY – The American Civil Liberties Union has struck an agreement with officials at the Wyoming State Penitentiary that will allow Muslim prisoners to maintain their religious practices and beliefs while still being able to eat daily meals.

According to the agreement reached on behalf of two Muslim prisoners, meal times will last up to 30 minutes for segregated prisoners who eat in their housing units and 20 minutes for prisoners who eat in the dining hall so as to allow them enough time to eat and complete their prayers. The prisoners, Joseph Miller and Hurie Purdiman, Jr., claimed in a lawsuit filed in April by the American Civil Liberties Union that meals often arrive at the same time that they are required by their faith to pray, forcing them to choose between praying and eating.

"Correctional officials in Wyoming deserve a lot of credit for being committed to making sure that members of religious faiths have their basic religious needs met," said Stephen Pevar, staff attorney with the ACLU Racial Justice Program. "The accommodations made by prison officials here are consistent with the letter and spirit of a law passed by Congress in 2000 designed to afford greater protection to religious practices in prison."

As part of the agreement, the main dining hall in the prison will now have a separate microwave for prisoners who eat non-pork meals, the prison will now offer for sale in the commissary sanitary wipes which will allow prisoners to ensure that their prayer areas are sanitary and prisoners will receive audible notice prior to mealtimes so that they can finish their prayers and not miss their meals.

The agreement also allows for Muslim prisoners to receive meals prior to sunrise and after sunset in order to accommodate for daytime fasting during the religious observances of Ramadan and the holidays of Muharram, which is the first month of the Islamic calendar, and Hajj – the annual pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca.

"Prisoners should never have to make a choice between adhering to their religious beliefs and eating," said Jennifer Horvath, an attorney with the ACLU of Wyoming. "The constitutional right to freely practice one's religion extends to everyone in this country, including those who are incarcerated."

The ACLU lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Wyoming, challenged previous prison policy requiring all prisoners to eat their meals within 20 minutes after food was delivered to a cell or common dining area. Because meal times often coincided with prayer times, Miller and Purdiman regularly had their meals confiscated before they were able to eat them. On other occasions, meals arrived during a period of religious fasting and then were confiscated prior to the fast ending at sunset.

A copy of the agreement is available online at: www.aclu.org/racial-justice-religion-belief/aclu-and-wyoming-state-penitentiary-agreement-religious-freedom

Additional information about the ACLU Racial Justice Program in available online at: www.aclu.org/racialjustice/

Additional information about the ACLU of Wyoming is available online at: www.aclu-wy.org

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