Kosher Food All the Rage in Florida Prisons

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One month after a federal judge ordered the Florida Department of Corrections to provide kosher meals to inmates, thousands are lining up to request the kosher food, including gentiles, creating a potential budget issue for the already debt-ridden system.

Judge Patricia Seitz of the U.S. District Court in Miami last month ruled that the prisons service had to provide kosher meals for all inmates "with a sincere religious basis for keeping kosher" by July 1.

The problem? Kosher meals are fresher and taste better than nonkosher alternatives, which often include protein alternatives to meat, and prison officials underestimated the number of requests they would get for the specially prepared food.

Officials had expected some 300 inmates to request the kosher meals, but were inundated with more than 4,400 requests, according to a report earlier this month in the Tampa Bay Times.

Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Michael D. Crews told a State Senate committee hearing this month that the state pays $1.52 a day for three regular meals for inmates, while two kosher meals push the cost upward to at least $4 a day, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

The New York Times reported Monday that prison officials are concerned the cost of providing kosher food could reach $54.1 million statewide at a time when the Florida prison system faces a $58 million deficit.

Meanwhile, Florida Governor Rick Scott has also vowed to cut $1 billion in spending on prisons, in part by privatizing some of them.

Yet, according to the New York Times, after Florida launched a pilot program for kosher food last year, the number of inmates who signed up for it increased exponentially once other inmates saw the individually boxed meals.

Inmates have a lot of paranoia about what they are being fed, Gary Friedman, a chaplain who is chairman of Jewish Prisoner Services International, told the paper. If they are using prepackaged, sealed meals, the inmates believe they are safer."

Loaves of challah (illustrative photo)Credit: Eyal Toueg
Prison cell (illustrative). Convicted rapist Yaniv Nahman will not spend time in jail. Credit: Dreamstime

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