Civil liberties group, State of Alaska settle suit over meals for Muslim inmates

A national Muslim civil liberties group has resolved its federal lawsuit against the State of Alaska for providing what it says were insufficient meals to Muslim inmates fasting as part of their faith. 

Muslims abstain from food and drink during daylight hours during the month-long Ramadan holiday.

“So when they are in prison, that means that the Department of Corrections needs to provide them with meals after the sun goes down and before dawn,” said Carolyn Homer, a trial attorney with the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR). 

The organization sued the state last year, alleging two inmates had to skip meals, lost weight and that guards punished them and confiscated any food they’d smuggled out of the dining hall to eat after sundown.

But this year the Department of Corrections amended its policies. Those are spelled out in an 11-point legal settlement signed Sept. 3. Muslim inmates will receive at least 3,000 calories a day as federal guidelines require. They will also be allowed to gather and pray five times a day and participate in Friday prayers.

Homer says many of the policy changes were already in effect this spring during Ramadan.

“They are now ensuring that all Muslim inmates in all facilities in Alaska receive two hot meals per day during the nighttime hours,” she said.

State corrections officials declined a recorded interview. They said they don’t track the inmate population by religion, but 45 prisoners fasted for Ramadan this year. Alaska’s prison population is 4,869. 

The state also agreed to pay $102,500 to cover attorney fees and other costs.

“The State of Alaska’s Department of Corrections accommodates more than thirty different religious groups inside of our facilities, including those who identify as Muslim,” DOC Criminal Justice Planner Jeremy Hough said in a written statement. “As a department, we are committed to providing religious as well as cultural opportunities for offenders within available resources, while maintaining facility security, safety, health and orderly operations.”

Jacob Resneck is CoastAlaska's regional news director in Juneau.

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