Miami-Dade County

Civil rights groups sue county over meals for Muslim inmates

The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida and the Council on American-Islamic Relations Florida sued Miami-Dade County , charging the Corrections Department with denying Muslim inmates meals that adhere to their religious dietary needs.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday in the U. S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, says the Miami-Dade Corrections and Rehabilitation Department’s policy to give Muslim inmates meals intended for the general population violates the inmates’ right to practice their religion freely, as inmates of other faiths are given meals that adhere to their dietary needs.

“You can’t treat one inmate class different than another,” said Thania Diaz Clevenger, a civil rights director of CAIR Florida. “Right now there is a big difference in the way they treat the three major religious communities.”

Islamic law requires followers to eat a halal diet, which prohibits certain animals, such as pig, to be eaten, and requires animals to be slaughtered in a particular manner. Halal foods also cannot come into contact with non-halal foods.

In the past, the corrections department gave Muslim inmates kosher meals, which they are permitted to eat; however, that practice stopped in October 2014 when the Muslim inmates were switched onto the general population meal plan. The county maintains the meals are compliant with Islamic law.

“The MCDR Food Services Bureau has worked closely with the Imam S. Nassimia, to ensure that the faith-based dietary requirements of the Islamic faith are met for Muslim inmates,” said a 2014 memo from MCDR. “The imam has reviewed the purchasing practices of the Food Services Bureau and has approved the menus listed above as meeting the faith-based dietary requirements for Muslim inmates.”

The switch to general population meals resulted in dozens of inmates contacting the ACLU of Florida and CAIR Florida, which filed formal grievances against the county's corrections department. The two groups have also worked to resolve the issue administratively over the past few months, according to a media release.

The lawsuit was brought on behalf of four inmates, who represent all Muslim individuals detained at MDCR jails as a class. The suit names Miami-Dade County, MDCR director Marydell Guevara and several other county officials as defendants.