More Muslim meals being served in Oklahoma prisons

State corrections department develops defined ‘halal' protocol in response to federal lawsuit.
BY ZEKE CAMPFIELD Published: June 3, 2012

While the rest of her staff prepares mass bologna sandwiches for lunch, Doris Vance washes oranges, wraps them in plastic and puts them in brown bags.

Preparing special meals for the Muslim inmates at John Lilley Correctional Center is not a hassle, but it definitely takes her away from some of her other responsibilities as the facility's food services manager, Vance said.

State prison officials said the number of alternative meals served to Oklahoma's Muslim inmate population statewide has increased since a federal court settlement forced the adoption of more formal guidelines this year.

Muslim meals, or halal meals, served at Oklahoma Department of Corrections facilities increased from 7,424 in January to 11,502 in April. They made up more than 38,000 of the 6.5 million total prison meals served during the first four months of 2012, said department spokesman Jerry Massie.

Just over 600 Oklahoma inmates attended Muslim religious services in May, Massie said.

Kosher, pork-free and vegetarian menu options have been available to Oklahoma inmates for several years, but the department's religious meals guidelines were updated to include a more defined halal option as part of the settlement agreement in February, he said.

A federal appeals court last year ruled in favor of Madyn Abdulhaseeb, aka Jerry L. Thomas, a Muslim inmate currently housed at Lawton Correctional Facility, who complained pork-free and meat-free meal alternatives offered to Muslim inmates did not meet dietary guidelines established by Islamic law.

Thomas, a repeat felony offender 11 years into a 150-year sentence on rape and burglary charges, was awarded $63,000 as part of the settlement agreement. The state also agreed to provide him a halal meal option and to locate a vendor that will provide festival and holiday foods to Muslim inmates.

Similar rulings have been upheld in Georgia, California and Ohio.

“We felt like what we were doing initially was sufficient, but I guess as the lawsuit went along and developments in other states in terms of those types of issues we felt like it was probably in the best interest to go ahead and settle it and start the process of serving halal meals,” Massie said.

At the minimum-security John Lilley facility, about 10 Muslims have been approved for a special dietary menu. A chaplain confirms that those who claim to be Muslim are actually practicing the religion.

Islamic dietary law dictates which foods can be eaten and which are prohibited, but it also prescribes a certain way in which the food can be stored, prepared and served, Vance said.

Halal requires extra washes for fruits and vegetables, and meat — non-pork, noncarnivorous and blessed in the name of Allah — must be slaughtered a prescribed way.

At her kitchen and at corrections facilities statewide, halal means heftier food bills and more time spent preparing daily meals.

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