Vegetarian inmate gets his wish fulfilled Jail official says suspect didn't need judge's help

June 05, 1998|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

Though he lost in court, a Howard County inmate seems to be nTC winning at the dinner table -- he's getting an extra scoop of vegetables.

Michael W. Britt, 31, took unsuccessful legal action against the Howard County Detention Center last month, alleging that the jail was violating his right to expression of religion by failing to provide him with vegetarian meals.

Britt, awaiting trial on charges he stole an 84-year-old woman's purse and broke her arm in three places, is a Buddhist.

Though Circuit Judge Lenore Gelfman dismissed his case because of technical flaws, she sent a letter to the jail director asking that Britt's culinary complaint be investigated.

Seven days later, Britt wrote to Gelfman thanking her for her aid.

"I believe it was your letter that has had two counselors and the food service director visit me to work out a suitable diet," Britt wrote.

"As of today I started receiving a meal that is satisfactory to my health and allows me to not violate my religious or moral beliefs. Again, thank you so much, Judge Gelfman."

Melanie Pereira, director of the detention center, said the letter from Gelfman -- who won her seat on the bench with a tough-on-crime platform -- had little to do with Britt's extra vegetables.

All Britt had to do was ask, she said.

"If we can accommodate, we will. In his case, he gets an extra scoop of vegetables," Pereira said.

Pereira said she will send a letter to Gelfman advising her of Britt's diet change, as Gelfman requested.

Gelfman did not return calls seeking comment.

Howard County's is not the only jail with prisoners who have complained that the food amounts to sacrilege. Last month, Richard David Cooper, an Orthodox Jew imprisoned in Hagerstown, lost an appeal to have a kosher diet provided for him.

That case made its way to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

In the opinion, the court said that honoring every prisoner's request for religion-specific meals would cost too much.

Pereira said she provides a pork-free diet at the Howard County jail because so many religions object to eating that meat.

Pub Date: 6/05/98

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