Alaska prison sued for allegedly starving Muslim prisoners during Ramadan

Alaska prison sued for allegedly starving Muslim prisoners during Ramadan
© Getty Images

The nation’s largest Muslim civil rights organization filed a federal lawsuit on Wednesday alleging that Muslim prisoners in an Alaska prison are being “starved” and fed pork products during Ramadan.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) filed suit against Alaska Department of Corrections officials on behalf of two plaintiffs who are Muslim inmates at the Anchorage Correctional Complex.

The suit accuses officials of violating the inmates’ constitutional rights and engaging in discriminatory behavior by denying them appropriate meals and necessary calories during Ramadan, a policy that it says amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

When observing the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims are permitted to eat only between sundown and sunrise.

Lena Masri, national litigation director for CAIR, said in a release that the Constitution forbids prisons from “compelling inmates to choose between their faith and food.”

“We hope that a court will do what Anchorage Correctional Complex officials will not: ensure that Muslim inmates are not starved or forced to violate the principles of their faith during the holy month of Ramadan,” Masri said.

ADVERTISEMENT

The plaintiffs had requested special meals and mealtimes, but the lawsuit alleges that the meals they were given were substantially lower in calories than those given to other inmates.

The Ramadan meals are “cold meals” ranging from 500 to 1,100 calories, according to the lawsuit. State policy requires that prisoners are given at least two hot meals a day, and those meals typically range between 2,600 to 2,800 calories.

The lawsuit says the plaintiffs’ meals sometimes contained pork products, a violation of Muslim dietary restrictions that forced the inmates to go with even less food.

Megan Edge, a spokeswoman for the Alaska Department of Corrections (DOC), said that the department cannot comment on ongoing litigation, but said that the department provides two “sack meals” for inmates observing Ramadan, which they can eat at “the time that best facilitates their fasting.”

“DOC accommodates many different faiths inside of our facilities – including those who identify as Muslim,” Edge said. “To the best of our ability, in accordance with Islamic Law, we are providing our Muslim residents the opportunity to succeed during Ramadan by being able to abstain totally from food and drink between dawn and dusk.”

She added that her agency currently accommodates inmates from 28 different religions.

“We do not limit the religions these are currently what we have in the facilities,” she said. “If someone comes along that wishes to practice a different religion we will accommodate them within the confines of the safety and security of all our residents and staff.”

The lawsuit asks a court to require the Department of Corrections to provide a “balanced nutritional diet” for Muslim inmates observing Ramadan, and seeks an unspecified amount of damages. 

The organization also filed an emergency motion requesting that a court order officials to immediately provide Muslim prisoners with “adequate nutrition, free of pork products.”

—Updated at 3:21 p.m.