DC Jail Limited Food for Muslims Breaking Their Daily Fast In 2011 Ramadan -- ACLU Investigation Shows; Officials Urged to Not Repeat Problem in 2012August 19, 2012
Muslim inmates at the contract annex to the D.C. Jail (operated by Tennessee-based Corrections Corp. of America and known as the Correctional Treatment Facility) fasted religiously from sunrise to sunset last August during the holy month of Ramadan.
And in prior years, Aramark, the jail food contractor, served a double dinner portion late in the day to make up the lost nutrition.
But not in 2011.
Staff told inmates there were “budget problems.” But inmates knew the well-established First Amendment principles of free exercise of religion that apply in jails and prisons and require allowing Muslims to shift their meals during Ramadan. They knew, too, the law also requires jails and prisons to serve a fully nutritious diet of about 2800 calories per day.
When their grievances went unresponded inside, inmates reached out to the ACLU explaining they faced a hard choice--follow their religion or go hungry.
ACLU, assisted by student investigators from the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law, got documents released under public records requests showing no budget problem at all. Instead, high officials had decided the Muslim faith didn’t actually require the make-up food, so gave direction to the kitchen to stop double portions. Aramark was just following orders.
Fortunately, wiser heads and the rule of law prevailed later in Ramadan 2011, restoring the constitutional principles that jail and prison inmates don’t lose their rights to religious expression and sound nutrition.
The ACLU reviewed this history in a letter to D.C. Department of Corrections in August 2012, urging there be no repeat of the previous year’s misunderstanding. ACLU senior staff attorney, Fritz Mulhauser, who wrote the agency, said “We hope 2011 was just one year’s unfortunate mistake when an official substituted a personal opinion for what the law requires; we hope that D.C. Jail and CTF food service are back on track to follow the Constitution in 2012.”
See the ACLU letter here.