Polk Jailers Cater to Inmates’ Religious Diets by Clifford Parody

Posted: August 29, 2012 in News and politics

They may not have underwear and they may not be playing basketball, but Polk County Jail inmates do have some say in what they eat.

The federal government sued Florida’s Department of Corrections on Aug. 14 for not providing kosher meals to inmates, a practice it stopped in 2007. The Justice Department says that by not providing these meals, Florida is violating a federal law that forbids state and local governments from hindering inmates’ ability to worship.

Although Polk Correctional Institute in Polk City is part of the Florida Department of Corrections, Carrie Eleazer, spokeswoman for the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, said this lawsuit will not affect the Polk County Jail in Frostproof.

“State prisons are governed by the Florida State Department of Corrections. County jails are operated by each county sheriff. We do adhere to the Florida Model Jail Standards for accreditation purposes, but we are not regulated or governed by the State Department of Corrections. We may choose to adopt state prison policies, but we are not mandated to,” Eleazer said in an email. “If they choose to serve or not serve certain meals, it has no bearing on what we serve here.”

In 2007, Sheriff Grady Judd chose not to remove kosher food.

“As people are booked into the jail, they are asked if they practice a particular religion. If they express that they are Jewish and would like kosher meals, we provide those,” Eleazer said.

In order for food to be considered kosher, the animal must be slaughtered in a specific way, and kosher laws also dictate how the food is prepared and what utensils are used in the process. And some foods, like pork and shellfish, are strictly forbidden.

Florida Southern College professor and Jewish historian Dr. Catherine Eskin says it is not only beneficial for the inmate to have access to kosher foods, but beneficial to society as a whole.

“One of the things we are trying to do as a society is to rehabilitate prisoners,” Eskin said. “It is to the advantage of society that we offer prisoners the option to take control of their lives by taking control of their diets.”

Rabbi Moshe Lazaros of the Chabad Jewish Center in Lakeland, who regularly visits prisons around the state, echoes Eskin’s sentiment.

“It’s called the Department of Corrections and the ones who come out corrected are the ones who find some kind of spirituality or faith,” Lazaros said. “Kosher is important because you are what you eat. Kosher foods come from pure animals, so they provide pure energy.”

With budget cutbacks abounding in the jail system, it may come as a surprise that kosher options are available; A kosher breakfast costs $5.50, while the cost of an average breakfast is about 56 cents.

According to Eleazer, there currently aren’t any Polk County inmates requesting kosher food, and the jail has provided only about seven inmates with kosher meals over the past 15 years.

The jail also provides for other faith-based dietary decisions.

“The same goes for Muslims, or any other religion, if they have any special diet requests,” Eleazer said in her email. “Any additional items that are requested are validated for appropriateness and balanced according to the religion and the level of commitment that the requestor has toward their faith. These additional items are taken on a case-by-case basis and purchased locally in accordance with religious constraints.”

This includes vegetarian and vegan selections, and, according to Eleazer, about five to seven inmates a year take advantage of these options.

Polk County Jail Court and Support Services Captain Rick Hohl says that it’s about doing what is right for people.

“Their charges and sentences are one thing,” Hohl said. “But their religious beliefs are something completely different, and we’re not going to hinder that.”

 

[ Clifford Parody can be reached at clifford.parody@theledger.com or 863-812-7516. ]

<!–They may not have underwear and they may not be playing basketball, but Polk County Jail inmates do have some say in what they eat.

The federal government sued Florida's Department of Corrections on Aug. 14 for not providing kosher meals to inmates, a practice it stopped in 2007. The Justice Department says that by not providing these meals, Florida is violating a federal law that forbids state and local governments from hindering inmates' ability to worship.

Although Polk Correctional Institute in Polk City is part of the Florida Department of Corrections, Carrie Eleazer, spokeswoman for the Polk County Sheriff's Office, said this lawsuit will not affect the Polk County Jail in Frostproof.

"State prisons are governed by the Florida State Department of Corrections. County jails are operated by each county sheriff. We do adhere to the Florida Model Jail Standards for accreditation purposes, but we are not regulated or governed by the State Department of Corrections. We may choose to adopt state prison policies, but we are not mandated to," Eleazer said in an email. "If they choose to serve or not serve certain meals, it has no bearing on what we serve here."

In 2007, Sheriff Grady Judd chose not to remove kosher food.

"As people are booked into the jail, they are asked if they practice a particular religion. If they express that they are Jewish and would like kosher meals, we provide those," Eleazer said.

In order for food to be considered kosher, the animal must be slaughtered in a specific way, and kosher laws also dictate how the food is prepared and what utensils are used in the process. And some foods, like pork and shellfish, are strictly forbidden.

Florida Southern College professor and Jewish historian Dr. Catherine Eskin says it is not only beneficial for the inmate to have access to kosher foods, but beneficial to society as a whole.

"One of the things we are trying to do as a society is to rehabilitate prisoners," Eskin said. "It is to the advantage of society that we offer prisoners the option to take control of their lives by taking control of their diets."

Rabbi Moshe Lazaros of the Chabad Jewish Center in Lakeland, who regularly visits prisons around the state, echoes Eskin's sentiment.

"It's called the Department of Corrections and the ones who come out corrected are the ones who find some kind of spirituality or faith," Lazaros said. "Kosher is important because you are what you eat. Kosher foods come from pure animals, so they provide pure energy."

With budget cutbacks abounding in the jail system, it may come as a surprise that kosher options are available; A kosher breakfast costs $5.50, while the cost of an average breakfast is about 56 cents.

According to Eleazer, there currently aren't any Polk County inmates requesting kosher food, and the jail has provided only about seven inmates with kosher meals over the past 15 years.

The jail also provides for other faith-based dietary decisions.

"The same goes for Muslims, or any other religion, if they have any special diet requests," Eleazer said in her email. "Any additional items that are requested are validated for appropriateness and balanced according to the religion and the level of commitment that the requestor has toward their faith. These additional items are taken on a case-by-case basis and purchased locally in accordance with religious constraints."

This includes vegetarian and vegan selections, and, according to Eleazer, about five to seven inmates a year take advantage of these options.

Polk County Jail Court and Support Services Captain Rick Hohl says that it's about doing what is right for people.

"Their charges and sentences are one thing," Hohl said. "But their religious beliefs are something completely different, and we're not going to hinder that."

 

[ Clifford Parody can be reached at clifford.parody@theledger.com or 863-812-7516. ]

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