Friday, June 10, 2011

Temporary agreement reached in case of Orthodox Jewish prisoner's meals 

A temporary resolution was reached Friday in the case of an Orthodox Jewish prisoner who wants the Nevada Department of Corrections to continue serving kosher meals to inmates who request them.

Howard Ackerman, an inmate at the Northern Nevada Correctional Center in Carson City, filed a class-action lawsuit last week in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas. He also filed an emergency motion for a temporary restraining order.

In the lawsuit, Ackerman claims officials with the Nevada Department of Corrections are violating the First Amendment with their decision to end kosher food options for inmates.

At a hearing Friday before U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro, attorneys involved in the case said they had reached an agreement that eliminated the need for a restraining order. Under the agreement, prison officials will give 30 days' notice before implementing a new menu.

"Inmates are going to get their kosher food and be able to continue to exercise their constitutional rights," attorney Jacob Hafter said after the hearing.

Hafter represents Ackerman. The attorney was accompanied in court on Friday by Rabbi Shea Harlig from Chabad of Southern Nevada.

Greg Cox, acting director of the Department of Corrections and a defendant in Ackerman's lawsuit, also attended the hearing. He declined to comment afterward.

Navarro said Cox's presence at the hearing showed that he "also thinks that this is an important issue." The judge scheduled a Dec. 15 hearing to check on the status of the case.

Hafter said the department announced its decision to end kosher food options for prisoners in December. He said the decision does not only affect Orthodox Jews. Other prisoners, such as observant Muslims, also rely on a kosher diet to meet the requirements of their religions, the lawyer said.

In 2002, death row inmate Travers Greene filed a similar lawsuit against the state. The case was resolved when the Department of Corrections agreed to provide Greene kosher food.

"The law is clear," Hafter argued during Friday's hearing.

According to the defendants' response to the motion for a restraining order, "The status quo that Ackerman seeks is already the current state of affairs he enjoys: no new menu has been implemented and defendants are not yet certain what the menu will be or when it might be implemented."

The department "intends to have the menu be certified as kosher," according to the response.

Ackerman, 50, was sentenced to life with the possibility of parole in a kidnapping case.

According to his lawsuit, keeping kosher is "a central and essential tenet of Orthodox Judaism."

Those who adhere to a kosher diet do not eat pork, shellfish or certain birds. Also, meat and dairy products may not be eaten together. Although fruits and vegetables are kosher, they may not come into contact with non-kosher food, utensils or dishes.


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