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Alaska News

Judge orders state to serve adequate, pork-free meals to Alaska Muslim prisoners

  • Author: Alex DeMarban
  • Updated: May 26, 2018
  • Published May 25, 2018

Two options for Ramadan sack meals are pictured in the kitchen of the Anchorage Correctional Complex. The photos show what the Department of Corrections says is a daily portion of food given to an inmate observing Ramadan: Two milk portions, four fruits, two veggie bags, turkey bologna sandwiches and two pieces of cake. (Photo provided by the Department of Corrections)

A federal judge Friday ordered the Alaska Department of Corrections to provide fasting Muslim inmates with pork-free meals containing at least 2,600 calories per day, after two inmates in the Anchorage jail sued saying they were being fed dangerously meager meals that contained pork products.

H. Russel Holland, a U.S. district judge in Alaska, issued the emergency order. He also said in his ruling that the agency cannot remove either plaintiff from the Ramadan Meal List.

A nonprofit that advocates for the civil rights of Muslims, the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Washington, D.C., filed the lawsuit on behalf of the inmates Anas A. Dowl, 41, and Ernest A. Jacobsson, 38, on Tuesday. An attorney for the group had said Muslim inmates were being starved.

The DOC says the bologna it served the inmates was made of turkey, not pork products, which are forbidden under Muslim dietary code. The agency said the department is making every effort to accommodate the religious practices of Muslim prisoners.

A hearing seeking a temporary emergency order was held Thursday.

The plaintiffs had said that other inmates at the Anchorage jail get meals of between 2,500 and 2,800 calories per day while Muslim inmates who fast during daylight hours during the month of Ramadan are only offered two cold "bagged meals" to be consumed in their cells.

Ramadan started May 16 and ends June 15.

The meals totaled 500 to 1,100 calories, according to the complaint. On several days, the bagged meals had bologna sandwiches in them containing pork products, the lawsuit alleges.

By not eating those sandwiches, the men received even fewer calories than the already low amount they were initially given, the lawsuit alleged.

Correctional officers also confiscated bagged meals and four hamburgers the men had traded other inmates for their bologna sandwiches, the plaintiffs' motion for the emergency restraining order said.

Roughly 30 to 40 Muslim inmates are incarcerated in Alaska prisons.

"This temporary restraining order shall remain in effect until the court rules on plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction," said Holland.

Megan Edge, a DOC spokeswoman, said Friday that the agency is reviewing the decision and will not comment on ongoing ligation.