'Individualized meals' denied despite pleas by two inmates Jewish prisoner wants kosher

vegetarian sought a substitute for meat

May 22, 1998|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

Michael Britt wants a vegetarian meal because he is a `D Buddhist. Richard David Cooper wants kosher meals because he is an Orthodox Jew.

Neither will be getting what he wants for dinner. Both are prisoners. Both have filed lawsuits and lost.

"We have to provide them with constitutional services, not individualized meals," said Leonard Sipes Jr., spokesman for the state Department of Parole and Probation.

Some accommodation

That's not to say institutions aren't trying.

Melanie Pereira, director of the Howard County Detention Center, said all meals there are pork-free.

Removing the meat that many religions object to seemed an easy way to clear some problems from the table, she said.

"Where feasible, we'll try to accommodate religious beliefs," Pereira said. "But it depends."

Britt tried to sue the Howard County Detention Center last week, but his suit was dismissed two days after it was filed apparently for technical flaws.

Britt, in a handwritten filing, alleged that the jail was violating his right to freedom of religion by denying him a vegetarian diet.

"The center has denied the plaintiff a [meat] substitute, telling him to quote, 'Just don't eat the meat, push it to the side,' " the filing stated.

Cooper lost an appeal two weeks ago to have a kosher diet provided for him while he is in a state correctional institution in Hagerstown.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals noted that granting Cooper the right to have kosher meals could bankrupt the penal system because other faithful prisoners might ask for religion-specific meals.

Maryland's state prison system "cannot afford to honor those requests, and providing special diets to some inmates and not to others would violate the prison's religious directives, which is to treat all religions equally," the opinion said.

Prepackaged meals offered

In Cooper's case, Pikesville's Jewish Big Brothers and Big Sisters League offered to bring him prepackaged meals. But, the opinion says, prison officials fear the meals could strain the overtaxed kitchen.

Mike Levine, institutions coordinator for the league, said he has provided meals for about 60 Jewish prisoners on religious holidays. In Hagerstown, he provided Passover dinner, but the prison in Jessup also allowed him to provide food on Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement.

Pub Date: 5/22/98

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