State reaches settlement in case brought by Muslim inmates

    Juneau, Alaska (AP) - The Alaska Department of Corrections has agreed to policy changes to accommodate Muslim inmates who wish to practice their religion, settling a lawsuit brought last year.

    A federal judge Friday signed the agreement in a case brought on behalf of two Muslim inmates by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which argued that meals provided to the men during the holy month of Ramadan did not meet caloric requirements under federal health guidelines. They also said the meals were cold when others received hot meals and sometimes contained pork at odds with their faith.

    The lawsuit also alleged the department had not allowed Muslims to perform Friday religious services or hold study groups.

    Terms of the agreement call for the department to provide inmates fasting during Ramadan at least 3,000 average daily calories and at least two hot meals without pork. Officials are not allowed to remove inmates on the list for a Ramadan diet for disciplinary or other reasons.

    Ramadan is marked by daily fasting from dawn to sunset. The settlement calls for meals to be provided between sunset and dawn.

    Muslim inmates also will be allowed to participate in religious services, prayers and religious study groups.

    The department agreed to pay $102,500 in damages, costs and attorneys' fees.

    The agreement states that the department has already adopted some of the provisions and will take the steps to formally adopt others, primarily related to religious gatherings.

    Plaintiffs' attorney Gadeir Abbas said with these policies, Alaska would be a model for how prisons and jails should accommodate Muslims in their facilities. "That's to be commended, it really is," he said.

    "It's a positive development for the state of Alaska and for the Muslims that are incarcerated. There's few places where a person's faith is more important than when their freedom is taken away," he said.

    One of the men named as a plaintiff is no longer an inmate, Abbas confirmed.

    A message seeking comment was sent to a department spokeswoman.

    Jeremy Hough, who is with the department, was quoted in a release from the Council on American-Islamic Relations as saying the department accommodates more than 30 different religious groups inside its facilities, including Muslims.

    "As a Department, we are committed to providing religious as well as cultural opportunities for offenders within available resources, while maintaining facility security, safety, health and orderly operations," he said.

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