On Tuesday, an American civil rights group sued Alaska's prison system for "starving" Muslim inmates during the Islamic holiday of Ramadan. According to the complaint, two Muslim inmates were not given adequate food over the course of Ramadan, which places strict limits on when practitioners may eat. It's the second time in 2018 that a Muslim inmate has sued a prison for allegedly refusing to accommodate their religious dietary restrictions.
The Alaska Department of Corrections has policies requiring that inmates be given accommodations for their religious practices, including fasting. But according to the lawsuit, which the Council on American-Islamic Relations Legal Defense Fund filed in U.S. District Court on Tuesday, inmates Anas Dowl and Ernest Jacobsson were not granted such accommodations during the 2017 and 2018 Ramadan seasons at the Anchorage Correctional Complex, and on at least one day, were refused any food at all.
During Ramadan, practitioners are not allowed to eat between sunup and sundown, which conflicts with the strict meal schedules in most prisons. Dowl and Jacobsson contend that prison officials dealt with this by giving them bag lunches in the evening — but that these lunches were nutritionally insufficient, containing far fewer calories than the recommended daily amount. The inmates say that the meals they received during Ramadan provided between 500 and 1,100 calories per day, less than half the caloric content of meals non-Muslim inmates were given.
Moreover, Dowl and Jacobsson say that some of their Ramadan meals contained pork, which they can't eat per their religious beliefs, leaving them even hungrier.
The plaintiffs also allege their treatment only worsened once they voiced their complaints. According to the lawsuits, the inmates informed their lawyer of the situation, who in turn spoke with a correctional officer at the prison; that officer responded not by changing Dowd and Jacobsson's eating regimen, but by raiding their cells and confiscating food they'd received from other inmates and stored to eat in the future, according to the lawsuit. That same official then refused to give them any food at all for a day, ostensibly as a "disciplinary action" for storing food in their cells, the lawsuit alleges.
Finally, the inmates say that when they attempted to file emergency grievance forms in an attempt to receive sufficient food, prison officials refused, and instead insisted that they fill out normal grievance forms.
"Because Ramadan commenced on May 16, 2018 and will end on approximately June 16, 2018; it is unlikely that Plaintiffs’ grievances will be resolved before Ramadan concludes," the lawsuit contends. "In the meantime, Plaintiffs are suffering irreparable harm to their health, including malnutrition, starvation, weight loss, hunger pangs, headaches, dizziness, among other things."
This isn't the first time a Muslim inmate has argued in court that they weren't given proper meal accommodations; in fact, it's not even the first time it's happened in 2018. In January, Rashid Kambarov sued the staff of the Oregon Department of Corrections for allegedly refusing to provide him with halal meat — that is, meat that complies with Islamic law — during his incarceration. He also claimed that he was refused access to kosher meals, which are prepared in accordance with Jewish law but mostly comply with halal standards as well, despite kosher meals being available to Jewish prisoners.
Dowd and Jacobsson argue that their treatment at the Anchorage facility violated the First, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution, which prohibit the restriction of religious expression, cruel and unusual punishment, and discrimination based on religion, respectively. They also argue that prison officers violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, which bans state and local correctional facilities from arbitrarily restricting inmates' religious practices.