« Explaining why I am rooting so hard for "Amy" in Paroline | Main | "Review for Release: Juvenile Offenders, State Parole Practices, and the Eighth Amendment" »

January 21, 2014

Florida prisons struggling with extra costs of a hearty appetite for religion

This new New York Times article, headlined "You Don’t Have to Be Jewish to Love a Kosher," highlights the extra costs of respecting religious freedoms for the incarcerated. Here are excerpts:

Florida is now under a court order to begin serving kosher food to eligible inmates, a routine and court-tested practice in most states.  But state prison officials expressed alarm recently over the surge in prisoners, many of them gentiles, who have stated an interest in going kosher.

Their concern: The cost of religious meals is four times as much as the standard fare, said Michael D. Crews, who is expected to be confirmed as secretary of the Department of Corrections in March.  “The last number I saw Monday was 4,417,” Mr. Crews said of inmate requests at his recent confirmation hearing before a State Senate committee. “Once they start having the meals, we could see the number balloon.”...

Kosher food in prisons has long served as fodder for lawsuits around the country, with most courts coming down firmly on the side of inmates.  As long as inmates say they hold a sincere belief in Judaism — a deeply forgiving standard — they are entitled to kosher meals, even if takes a little chutzpah to make the request.

“Florida is an outlier,” said Eric Rassbach, deputy general counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which has represented inmates around the country.  “It’s a holdout. I don’t know why it’s being a holdout.  It is strange that Florida, of all places, is placing a special burden on Jewish inmates.  It’s just stubbornness.”

In Florida’s prison system. which faces a $58 million deficit, money is the easy answer for the battle against kosher food.  The cost of three kosher meals in Florida is $7 a day, a big jump from the $1.54 for standard meals, Mr. Crews said.  In New York State, where 1,500 inmates out of about 56,000 keep kosher, the cost of a kosher meal is $5 a person.  In California, where some prisons have kosher kitchens, the price tag is $8, and the meals are served to 0.7 percent of about 120,000 inmates.

Last April, facing an inmate lawsuit, Florida began a pilot program for the religious diet at Union Correctional Facility near Jacksonville. Initially, some 250 inmates signed up, Mr. Crews said. But once other inmates spied the individually boxed lunches, 863 expressed a sudden interest in keeping kosher....

But the question of who gets a kosher meal is tricky.  In all, less than 1.5 percent of the country’s 1.9 million inmates are Jewish, according to the Aleph Institute, a social services organization, and many do not even request kosher meals.  “Who is a Jew?” Mr. Rassbach said. “People disagree about who is a Jew.”

The courts steer clear of that perilous debate.  Instead, inmates need only say they have a “sincerely held” religious belief.  Attempts by prison officials and rabbis to quiz prisoners about the Torah and the rules of keeping kosher were ruled not kosher. Tracing maternal lineage was similarly viewed unfavorably....  Some states, like New York, do nothing to try to discern who is feigning Jewishness.  In California, inmates talk with a rabbi who will gauge, very generally, a prisoner’s actual interest.

But some Jewish groups in Florida are pushing for greater control, which may pose a difficult legal hurdle.  “There should be away to ascertain who really does require a kosher meal for their religious belief,” said Rabbi Menachem M. Katz, director of prison and military outreach for the Aleph Institute in South Florida, “and who is just gaming the system.”

January 21, 2014 at 11:18 AM | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Florida prisons struggling with extra costs of a hearty appetite for religion :


"I don’t know why it’s being a holdout. It is strange that Florida, of all places..."

Maybe, they're simply wise to...

|The 'Jewish' Con| by George Howland Jr. | March 1, 2006
"Incarcerated gang members and murderers here and elsewhere are abusing freedom of religion to get special treatment."

"Jewish chaplain Gary Friedman wasn't surprised when he learned that incarcerated neo-Nazi gang members were claiming to be Jews at the Clallam Bay Corrections Center
on the Olympic Peninsula. In fact, the chairman of the Seattle-based Jewish Prisoner Services International had been expecting the news. Nationwide, "There is this
amazing phenomenon of non-Jews claiming to be Jewish
," says Friedman."

"[I]n 2004 Friedman received a call from Clallam Bay investigator Terry Benda about prisoners who were receiving kosher food ... first reported by the JTNews ...
neo-Nazi gang members and Mexican-American gang members were signing up for kosher food in large numbers."

"Across the country, prisoners of every ethnicity, faith, and political viewpoint, including neo-Nazis, latch onto Judaism for a variety of reasons. Of the 120
prisoners in this state who are granted a kosher diet, only a dozen are Jewish, Friedman says. Seattle Weekly's interviews with Washington prisoners who
have declared themselves Jewish and are receiving kosher food have yet to yield an actual Jew. Interviews with these prisoners and prison officials
reveal a host of reasons for the fakery."

"In Washington, as in most states, a prisoner fills out a form declaring his or her religion, and the state accepts that declaration at face value. "It's insulting," says Friedman."

Posted by: Adamakis | Jan 21, 2014 11:56:41 AM

Mother has to be Jewish. Or one must have gone through a difficult conversion to Judaism. That includes circumcision. The Jewish religion is small because it is so exclusive, rather than evangelical.

The prison should have a rabbi analyze the claims because of the complexity. Until then, the prisoner eats tref.

Jews are slightly under-represented in prison compared to their fraction of the population. Asians and Jews have an unpleasant reaction to alcohol. So that may explain.

One criminal area where they are over-represented? The criminal cult enterprise that is the lawyer profession.

I do not understand the silence of the Jews when forced to be indoctrinated into the Church based doctrines at the core of the common law, the mens rea, foreseeability as the basis of duty, and the word, reasonable, which is lawyer code for Jesus Christ. They took high school World History. They took freshman Western Civ. Why none is saying a word is a total betrayal of their people, kowtowing to the ideas of the Inquisition.

That is not the same as a Jew collaborating with Fascists or Al Qaeda. However, it comes close. These traitors in the lawyer hierarchy should be targeted by Jewish groups. Here is another intolerable anti-Semitic lawyer insult. In the Hall of Great Lawgivers in the US House of Representatives is a portrait of King Edward I. He is the one who invented making Jews wear yellow stars of David when walking outside their homes. He passed a law banning Jews from England, which lasted 400 years, until repealed by Oliver Cromwell. He is the one who gathered the Italian Jews financing his many wars. He killed them all, paying off his "mort"gage, then loosing his soldiers on their homes and family.

If Edward killed 400 Jews, he also killed Welsh, Irish, and Scottish by the hundred's of thousands (see Longshanks in the movie Braveheart). This French abomination is an idol of the morally reprehensible lawyer hierarchy.

Not a single word from the Jews in the House of Representative, nor from the Irish, Scottish, and Welsh lawyer. Also morally reprehensible.

The sickening sight:


Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jan 21, 2014 12:43:07 PM

bigger question would be what's so diff between the regular meals and the kosher that everyone seems to want them.

a big hint might be the amount of food considering the massive diff in price. 1.60 compared to 7.00

Posted by: rodsmith | Jan 21, 2014 1:00:22 PM

Credit card bill needs to be reviewed. If there are charges to a chinese restaurant on the Sabbath night, the prisoner ate pork fried rice and is not keeping kosher.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jan 21, 2014 1:25:08 PM

You erroneously dispute or do not understand the commonality of Judaism and Christianity,
attested by Jews such as Segal and Samuelson, i.e. "Most historians agree that Jesus
or his followers established a new Jewish sect, one that attracted both Jewish and
Gentile converts." -- wiki

Posted by: Adamakis | Jan 21, 2014 1:37:14 PM

Pop Quiz: These inmates suddenly claiming to be Jewish are (1) thoroughly sincere or (2) gaming the system.

P.S. That is the easiest pop quiz I have ever given.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jan 21, 2014 2:44:20 PM

At social events thrown by, e.g., large New York City law firms it is common for there to be kosher food available. It is, in my experience, not common for the kosher food to be snapped up by attendees who do not otherwise keep kosher. That's not commonly viewed as a productive strategy for gaming the system. It would not surprise me if the cost-per-head of the kosher offerings (because of lack of economies of scale and/or possibly the need to deal with a whole separate vendor) is materially higher, but the perceived quality (to a non-kosher-keeping palate) is not. How hard can it be for prison authorities to come up with food that is certifiably kosher but not (to the insincere outsider) any tastier than the regular offerings? I have a vague anecdotal sense that many of the airlines have, as it were, invested considerable thought over the years into how to make their kosher and other special-order meals sufficiently unappetizing as not to be attractive to people primarily motivated by a desire to game the system (and the airlines are smart enough not to want to get into the "are you really Jewish? your name doesn't sound Jewish . . . do you have a note from a rabbi?" sort of inquiry - if you ask for kosher with the requisite lead time, you get it, no questions asked), and that the odds that you'll do better than average by just pre-ordering the kosher meal are thus lower than they might have been a few decades back.

The article failed to mention the possibility that a non-trivial percentage of prisoners in Florida might be Islamic or Rastafarian and/or develop a perhaps-vague-but-not-necessarily-insincere interest in those faiths while incarcerated. Both of those faiths (and probably also some others I'm not thinking of) have their own dietary restrictions which are close enough to the kosher rules that serving kosher food might be a reasonable off-the-shelf way to accommodate them.

Posted by: JWB | Jan 21, 2014 4:34:05 PM

Florida prisons are the worst where inmates must buy their own shows and the conditions are like a gulag.
While un-indicted criminal governor lives like a prince after bilking tax payers of of hundreds of millions.

Expect riots in Florida prisons over conditions

Posted by: Tom Metzger | Jan 21, 2014 5:48:39 PM

JWB: "At...large NYC law firms. It is, in my experience, not common for the kosher food
to be snapped up by attendees who do not otherwise keep kosher."

- - -Not quite the same caliber of criminal as found in FL state prisons, right?

+ + +Your idea in favour of less tasty kosher food isn't outlandish.

- - -My 'less-vague-but-necessarily-insincere' demand is for daily, copious quantities of non-cow feta, fresh garlic & limon, free-range eggs, extra-virgin olive oil, & kalamatas.

Posted by: Adamakis | Jan 21, 2014 9:23:58 PM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB