Fresno County is expected to settle an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit over its food policies at the jail.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of inmates by Fresno-area citizens, who said the jail’s food policies didn’t meet with religious guidelines. Three inmates had requested kosher meals, but those requests were not granted.
The county has agreed to pay $22,500 to settle the case. It already was charged $7,500 for ACLU attorney’s fees when the case was dismissed from federal court and ordered moved to a local courts level, said County Counsel Dan Cederborg. The Fresno County Board of Supervisors could discuss the issue Tuesday during its regular meeting.
To fight the case further could cost the county upward of $55,000 or more, Cederborg said. Instead, he is suggesting the county settle the case.
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The lawsuit challenged the county’s accommodations for diets based on religious standards, and the grievance process for inmates who had unique dietary needs.
He said the jail’s policy did not conform with state and federal guidelines, but it was being carried out in the jail in conformance with state and federal rules.
“The written policy we had wasn’t how we handled it,” he said. “It was being done right, but the policy didn’t necessarily conform with what we were doing.”
It was being done right, but the policy didn’t necessarily conform with what we were doing.
Dan Cederborg, Fresno County counsel
The case dates to 2011 when an inmate requested a kosher meal and the jail denied him, said Novella Coleman, a lawyer for the ACLU of Northern California. Eventually, she said, the inmate was granted the kosher diet, but the policy was not changed. In 2013, three inmates were specifically named in the lawsuit. They converted to Judaism while in Fresno County Jail.
The ACLU claims the county’s action violated the First Amendment, the California Constitution and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.
The policy is for “inmates who demonstrate a sincere religious belief within a major, legitimate, recognized religious community, to receive an orthodox religious diet.” But the jail told the inmates that their meals were denied because they were “unable to provide the name of a rabbi or synagogue where he has been practicing his Jewish faith to verify his affiliation.”
Because the conversion was not done before “a rabbinical court, consisting of three rabbinical authorities,” the inmate could not verify his affiliation, the lawsuit said.
Rabbis have told jail officials that they don’t offer their services to converts in the jail, according to the lawsuit.
The county has adjusted its policy, Coleman said, which now complies with federal and state law.
She said that state and federal law are based on the sincerity of a person’s beliefs.