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Rights While Incarcerated

The purpose of criminal proceedings is to ensure that each defendant has a fair opportunity to be heard before having his/her fundamental right of liberty to be revoked. Upon conviction and sentencing, however, the offender no longer has the same right to liberty, as that right was revoked as form of retribution for illegal misconduct and bad acts. The question that is on many inmates’ minds is: what rights do I have while being incarcerated?

Do Incarcerated Individuals Have the Right of Religious Freedom?

The extent of an inmate’s right to religious freedom was decided recently by the U.S. Supreme Court. Over the last few years, especially in Florida, there has been considerable and contentious debate over the rights of religious freedom of incarcerated Jewish and Muslim individuals.

Kosher and Halal Diets: Is this a Right in Florida?

A recent case of religious freedom was decided in May 2014 and was over the provision of Kosher or Halal meals being provided to observant Jews and Muslim inmates. The Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) halted the provision of Kosher and Halal meals in 2007 to its observant populations due to the high cost of the meals. The only meals that the prison system was serving was: 1) a master menu, 2) a non-meat alternative, and 3) a vegan meal. There were also special dietary plates prepared for those inmates who had allergies or dietary concerns as ordered by a physician. Though there were no pork products in the prison meal, the meals still violated the Kosher and Halal standards required by the Jewish and Muslim communities, respectively.

The Department of Justice brought a claim against the FDOC and in May 2014, the exclusion of Kosher and Halal meals was found to be in violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA); the Court found that the cost for Kosher and Halal meals was speculated and not prohibitive enough for its discontinuation to be justified.

The Right to Grow a Beard as Part of a Religious Observance: Is this a Right in Florida?

The Supreme Court more recently settled the debate over the rights of religious men (predominantly Muslims) to grow a beard according to their religious faith. This claim was brought in Arkansas but made mention to Florida and an additional 5 state prison systems (Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia) that prohibited the practice of growing beards as part of the Muslim faith.

The Reasoning Behind the Beard Ban

The prison systems that disallowed the growing of a beard longer than half an inch was due to two concerns: 1. The beards could hide contraband such as razors, needles, and knives, and 2. The beards could be used as a disguise to a hide the identity of an escaped convict.

The Supreme Court’s Reasoning Behind The Ruling

The U.S. Supreme Court did not find the states’ arguments sufficient enough to be considered a compelling interest, and the prison systems failed to show that the ban against religious beards was the least restrictive means of furthering this compelling interest. Generally for the state to infringe on a religious freedom, it needs to show that it has a compelling interest in the infringement (in this case, the use of the beard as a way to hide contraband and the inmate’s identity), and that the ban is the least restrictive way, i.e. in other words, is there a method that infringes less on an inmate’s religious right?

Ultimately, the Supreme Court ruled on a concept more valuable than just beards. It was another win in favor of inmates’ right to religious practice. In the future, we will see how far this right really extends.

Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney in Fort Lauderdale

If you or loved one has been arrested for a criminal offense, it is important to speak with an experienced Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorney like Kevin J. Kulik about the intricacies of your case. Contact the Law Offices of Kevin J. Kulik today for a free and confidential consultation.

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