Suit: Muslim inmates not fed enough during Ramadan

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

A federal judge has cleared the way for a civil lawsuit to proceed against Michigan correction officials over how many calories they fed Muslim inmates during the Islamic month of Ramadan.

The lawsuit, filed by filed by the state chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, challenges the nutritional adequacy of the meals provided to inmates within the Michigan Department of Corrections during Ramadan in 2011 and 2012.

CAIR officials said four Muslim inmates received as little as one-third of the recommended daily calories in Ramadan 2011 and 2012 while serving sentences at four correctional facilities: Saginaw, Newberry, Parnall and Alger.

U.S. District Judge Linda Parker denied a motion by the Department of Corrections that said it’s entitled to qualified immunity in the case, arguing the law was not clearly established in 2011 and 2012.

The judge also ruled the plaintiffs failed to establish a viable equal protection claim in the case and dismissed part of the claims.

Parker said the prison menu in 2011 and 2012 provided Muslim inmates 1,803 and 1,756 average daily calories, respectively.

“They may have received as little as one third of the recommended daily calories for the one month Ramadan period in 2011 and 2012. A reasonable official would have known that this was insufficient to sustain plaintiffs in good health and thus violated their First and Eighth Amendment rights,” Parker wrote in the order.

The evidence indicates, Parker said, the plaintiffs often received meals containing less food than what was set forth on the Ramadan menu or was inedible food and the morning meal frequently was served after sunrise, precluding them from consuming the meal in accordance with the strictures of Ramadan observance.

Since the filing of the lawsuit in 2013, MDOC has increased the amount of food it provides Muslim inmates participating in the Ramadan fast to satisfy nutritional and caloric guidelines set forth in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Agriculture guidelines, CAIR officials said.

“We welcome the court’s decision to deny MDOC qualified immunity for violating our plaintiffs’ rights to free exercise of religion and to be free from cruel and unusual punishment,” CAIR-MI Legal Director Lena F. Masri said.

MDOC officials were not immediately available for comment.