Four inmates sue after being kept from observing Ramadan

Aerial view of Monroe Correctional Complex. (Photo by Washington State Department of Corrections.)

Late Sunday, a federal judge ordered the Monroe Correctional Complex to allow four Muslim inmates be put on a schedule to allow them adequate nutrition they observe Ramadan.

According to a lawsuit filed by the four, they were left off a list of more than 450 inmates statewide who received a meal plan specific to Ramadan and the four were not allowed to save food to eat after sunset.

Because they were not allowed on the state’s Ramadan meal schedule, the four inmates had been eating roughly half the daily target of 2,600 to 2,800 calories a day since May 16.

Muslims observe the Ramadan holiday — which runs from May 16 to June 15 this year — by abstaining from eating, smoking, alcohol and sex from dawn to dusk.

“An important part of the fast during Ramadan is seeking forgiveness from God and taking time to reflect on life choices. (U.S. District Court ) Judge (Ronald) Leighton’s order allows Washington’s Muslim inmates to practice this core tenant of their faith without fear of starvation,” said one of the inmates’ attorney Jay Gairson, in a news release by the Washington chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Gairson added: “It is fundamental for the Department of Corrections to allow all individuals to practice their faith and observe their religious dietary restrictions, regardless of whether they are a traditional Catholic who cannot eat meat on Fridays and fasts on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, a Mormon who fasts on the first Sunday of every month, or a Muslim who during Ramadan cannot eat during the day.”

He approached Leighton on Sunday with a request to allow the four to receive meals after sunset.

The Washington Department of Corrections offer special arrangements for Muslim observing Ramadan each year, which is providing fully nutritional meals after sunset, according to a statement by the Washington DOC.

“The Department of Corrections works with the system’s chaplains, including the Muslim contract chaplain, and seeks participation of those individuals who are observing Ramadan to promote the registration for iftar (which is the evening meal) ….  The Washington Department of Corrections takes very seriously the health and welfare of those sentenced to incarceration in the department’s correctional facilities and was immediately responsive to the court order,” the Washington DOC’s statement said.

This year, 456 Muslims are participating in the Ramadan observances, including 71 at the Monroe Correctional Complex. Jasmin Samy, civil rights director of CAIR-WA, said the chapter has heard about inmates being kept off the Ramadan list, but this year is the first time that inmates approached CAIR for legal help.,

Inmates were required to sign up for this schedule by Jan. 30.

The four plaintiff inmates are Demario Roberts, Mohamed Mohamed, Jeremy Livingston and Naim Lao.

According to their lawsuit:

  • Roberts signed for the Ramadan list by the Jan. 30 deadline, but his name was missing from the list when Ramadan began on May 16. He and the other three were not allowed to take extra food from breakfast to eat after dusk in the cells. He lost 15 pounds by the end of May.
  • Mohamed also signed up for the Ramadan list by Jan 30, but his name also was not on the May 15 list. Mohamed then got on the list, only to be taken off the next day when he was told he was put on the list by mistake. He also was not allowed to save breakfast food in the cell to eat after dusk. He lost 20 pounds by Sunday. He was similarly kept off the Ramadan list for one week in 2017 at the Coyote Ridge Correctional Center.
  • Livingston arrived at Monroe in March after the Jan. 30 signup date. He obtained food for after dusk from other Muslim inmates, but that was confiscated. He lost 29 pounds.
  • Lao contends he never received or saw any announcements about the Jan. 30 deadlines, and never signed up for the Ramadan list. He almost passed out form hunger, and the staff twice threatened  him with force-feedings before dusk until he got on the list after eight days. He lost 14 pounds.

“Defendants have not identified any compelling government interest for denying Plaintiffs’ request to be placed on the Ramadan List, and their corresponding requests for a religious diet that satisfies nutritional and caloric requirements during the month of Ramadan. …. Defendants have imposed regulations that unreasonably subject Plaintiffs to cruel and unusual punishment and that limit religious exercise, discriminate against Plaintiffs on the basis of religious denomination, and treat Plaintiffs on less than equal terms with other religious and non- religious similarly-situated persons.,’ their lawsuit said.

The lawsuit sought to place the four on the Ramadan list. And it seeks unspecified damages from the state.