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Judge Rules Prison Food Is Kosher

A death row inmate filed suit that ‘kosher-like’ was not enough

Brigit Katz
December 02, 2014

In August of this year, a death row inmate filed a lawsuit against the Connecticut Department of Corrections on the grounds that the state failed to provide him with kosher prison food. Now a U.S. District Court judge has rejected the prisoner’s motion in a recent ruling. The judge stated that Steven Hayes, a convicted murderer and rapist, does in fact receive kosher meals in prison, JTA reports.

U.S. District Court Judge Alvin Thompson in his ruling issued last week said Steven Hayes … receives meals that are certified by two rabbis who monitor the preparation of kosher food in the state’s prison system.

In his lawsuit, Hayes had argued that the prison was not certified to prepare strictly kosher food, and that prison staff had told him that his meals were “kosher-like.” He sought $15,000 in compensatory damages for “intentional infliction of pain, suffering and resulting weight loss from the deliberate denial of a kosher diet.” In an amended complaint filed earlier this month, Hayes claimed that he had not eaten any kosher food since August 24, and has lost fifty pounds as a result.

Hayes, who converted to Judaism while serving a prison sentence in the 1990s, accused the state of violating his First Amendment right to free exercise of religion. His lawsuit had requested an injunction ordering the Department of Corrections to provide pre-packaged kosher meals to all prison wards in Connecticut.

Hayes also alleged that he has been subject to other discrimination in prison, claiming that he was placed on suicide watch after fasting during Yom Kippur. But in all fairness to the state, Hayes had previously planned to kill himself by eating oysters, to which he is severely allergic. Oysters, incidentally, are not kosher.

Brigit Katz is an editorial intern at Tablet.