Alaska Agrees to Accommodate Muslim Inmates’ Religious Needs

 The Alaska Department of Corrections has agreed to policy changes to accommodate Muslim inmates who wish to practice their religion, settling a lawsuit brought last year.

A federal judge Friday signed the agreement in a case brought on behalf of two Muslim inmates by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which argued that meals provided to the men during the holy month of Ramadan did not meet caloric requirements under federal health guidelines. They also said the meals were cold when others received hot meals and sometimes contained pork, which is at odds with their faith.

The lawsuit also said the department had not allowed Muslims to perform Friday religious services or hold study groups.

Details of agreement

Terms of the agreement call for the department to provide inmates fasting during Ramadan at least 3,000 average daily calories and at least two hot meals without pork. Officials are not allowed to remove inmates on the list for a Ramadan diet for disciplinary or other reasons.

Ramadan is marked by daily fasting from dawn to sunset. The settlement calls for meals to be provided between sunset and dawn.

Muslim inmates also will be allowed to participate in religious services, prayers and religious study groups.

The department agreed to pay $102,500 in damages, costs and attorneys’ fees.

The agreement states the department has adopted some of the provisions and will take steps to formally adopt others they have moved to implement, primarily related to religious gatherings.

A model for others

The Council on American-Islamic Relations also will provide free videoconference religious sensitivity training for department superintendents, chaplains and grievance officers.

Plaintiffs’ attorney Gadeir Abbas said that with these policies, Alaska would be a model for how prisons and jails should accommodate Muslims in their facilities. 

“That’s to be commended, it really is,” he said.

“It’s a positive development for the state of Alaska and for the Muslims that are incarcerated. There’s few places where a person’s faith is more important than when their freedom is taken away,” he said.

One of the men named as a plaintiff is no longer an inmate, Abbas said.

The Department of Corrections said by email that it was accommodating some of the settlement requirements before the lawsuit.

“The settlement agreement ensures that policy will not change in the future,” the department said.

It said it accommodates more than 30 different religious groups inside its facilities, including Muslims, and is committed “to providing religious as well as cultural opportunities for offenders within available resources, while maintaining facility security, safety, health and orderly operations.”