Kenedy, TX – For What Reason Did So Many Inmates Became Suddenly Jewish

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    Jewish prisoners in Kenedy TX
    Kenedy, TX – If jailhouse religion is true Judaism is a sticky matter for the Texas prison system. Yet this question is at the heart of a federal lawsuit against the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

    The suit, filed last year by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty in Washington D.C., seeks to force TDCJ to provide daily kosher meals to Jewish inmates in Houston. 861 inmates claim to be Jewish in Texas and could benefit from the suit’s outcome. However, only 75 are considered bona fide Jews by the state’s three Jewish chaplains. In recent weeks, negotiations have become more frequent and intense among TDCJ officials, prison chaplains and Becket Fund lawyers. All sides have said they are working for a solution that would avoid a trial.

    Texas provides non-pork and non-meat meals to inmates but they don’t meet the kosher test, Jewish chaplains work to ensure real kosher and ritual meals are available to Jewish inmates. But such meals would be an added expense to the state and would require new policies to deal with the unknown number of inmates who would qualify for them.
    Texas prisoners can declare a new religion once a year. They are then limited to that faith’s services, educational programs and holidays. In recent weeks, Jewish chaplains have met with prison officials to work out a proposed settlement. It includes setting up a kosher kitchen in designated prison units or buying pre-packaged kosher food from a kosher vendor.

    But state “agency leaders are looking at all the different angles to provide a solution,” said Bill Pierce, director of chaplaincy for TDCJ, declining further comment on the status of talks because the case is pending. The matter, Pierce said, is difficult because inmates have used religion for insincere reasons. In the 1990s, Texas prisons offered kosher meals and a groundswell of inmates claimed Judaism as their faith.

    In addition to the benefits of diet, they were seeking time off from obligatory work at their units by qualifying for Jewish holidays, he said.


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