Sunday, November 20, 2011

Preferential Treatment in Prisons

Abdul Awkal, a Muslim on death row for two counts of murder, claims that the Ohio prison system is denying him meals prepared according to Islamic law. However, that same prison system is providing kosher meals to the Jewish prisoners. Awkal is arguing that the prison system’s failure to provide halal meals is a restraint on his religious freedoms. A second inmate joined him in the fight for justice claiming that vegetarian and non-pork options are not good enough because the food must be prepared in a specific fashion by slitting the animals throat and draining it’s blood in order to conform to Islamic beliefs. Awkal states that the issue of his meal options is problematic and “it is important to me that I follow the requirements of my faith as I approach death.” Once this lawsuit was brought upon the state, they removed pork from its menus. This decision accommodates religious preferences without jeopardizing the state’s security. A representative for the state said, “It eliminates any doubt that Muslims or any inmate who has a specific prohibition against pork products receives port inadvertently or otherwise.” However, this accommodation doesn’t solve the problem of the specific way the meat must be slaughtered for their religious purposes.
The state argues that the providing halal meals for Muslims could potentially hurt Ohio financially because of the states budget. The problem I have with this claim is that Ohio spends about $3.50 to $7.00 on kosher meals compared to $1.70 for regular meals. The article gives examples of what other states do to please inmates with religious specifications. California provides kosher and halal, and the meats for halal are cooked separately. Arizona provides vegetarian and other options to fulfill halal requirement but doesn’t cook their meat specially. Texas follows Arizona’s standards and Massachusetts follows California’s. Ohio says that providing halal meals would mean new meal plans for up to 2,000 inmates, which is a huge burden. Awkal’s lawyers claim that not all Muslims eat halal meals so it would not be such a burden.
The problem here, I think, is that Jewish inmates are getting special treatment over the Muslim inmates because their religion both requires special meals. Since it’s state money that is paying for these meals, I would consider this to be an Establishment issue. Ohio is clearly favoring the Jewish inmates over Muslims. However, I believe that neither should be getting preferential treatment. Even if the state was to give the Muslim inmates the halal at their request, that would be establishing religion over non-religion. If there were no cost difference in preparing regular meals with religious meals, I would think it is fair. However, the price difference whether it is $3.50-$7.00 compared to $1.70 like it is in Ohio or $3.50 compared to $2.90 in California, is still preferential treatment to religion over non-religion.
Also, prison is supposed to be about stripping a member of society from special privileges due to a hostile act they were convicted of. In this case, the two inmates filing the lawsuit are both convicted of murder and one also convicted of aggravated robbery. I do not think they should be able to get religious exemptions after committing such heinous crimes. Because prisons are government property, it becomes an issue of establishment when inmates are given religious exemptions. Going back to a blog post from a few weeks ago “Prison and Religion” referred to a Muslim not being able to pray five times a day, like their religion mandates. This post had more to do with maintaining a safe environment but balancing the rights of the incarcerated. Praying five times a day doesn’t have much effect on the state’s interest if it is done in one’s own cell during his own time. However, giving inmates special meals and taking extra government money to do so is an Establishment and by not giving them these meals does not violate their basic rights. As I said before, the purpose of prison is to strip individuals of some basic rights, thus, these Muslims should have thought about their halal meals before murdering others. 


Harry R. said...

I feel that the prison systems in question should have the right to act in ways they see fit regarding the preparation of meals. It is indisputable that one loses many constitutional rights when in prison, such as a right to privacy. If one's religious exercises do not conform to prison rules, those will be restricted as well. Therefore, while I feel that the prison would be considerate if it provided halal meals, I do not believe that they should be forced to do so.

Casey K said...

The inmates deserve the ability to stay true to their faith despite the crimes that they have committed. I believe that the followers of religions that require food to be prepared in certain ways should be offered meals prepared in the way their religions prescribes. By not granting them this option the prisoners are being coerced to go against their religious beliefs. Regardless of this cost upon the state, I think that prisoners should still be able to follow to their religious beliefs.

Casey K said...
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