There’s been a recent wave of court cases in Michigan in which inmates are suing prisons on the premise that their rights are being restricted. Specifically, in Jackson and Kent County, Mich., three prisoners have filed lawsuits against Michigan correctional facilities stating their basic rights to the freedom of religion and speech have been violated. These men (all part of minority groups in the United States) are blatantly being denied basic rights that other prisoners are allowed. Michigan prisons should look to implement cost-effective solutions into their systems to eliminate this discrimination that not only affects prisoners, but also minorities.
Bahaa Iswed, an Arabic prisoner at a correctional facility in Jackson, Mich. is suing the Michigan Department of Corrections for refusing to allow him to call his family and friends in Jordan and Romania. The MDOC’s defense is that they limit foreign language calls for security purposes. Iswed complained about the lack of communication but was instructed by authorities to write to his family instead. Ultimately, prison officials rejected his family’s letters because they were written in Arabic.
Two inmates are separately suing the Kent County Correctional Facility for refusing to accommodate religious dietary requests. Saabir Abdullah unsuccessfully sought an Islamic vegetarian diet, also called halal, with accommodations for fasting during Ramadan. Bradley Keith Sleighter wants to be served kosher meals, a Jewish tradition. Abdullah’s jail refused to give him a “no-meat diet.” However, they provided a Seventh-Day Adventist — a form of Protestant Christian — the same request.
Many other states have also recently encountered issues with prisoner rights — especially concerning meal systems — and found economic solutions that don’t burden taxpayers. In California and Massachusetts, packaged kosher and halal meals are provided to inmates at a slightly higher price than regular prison meals. Other states, like Texas and Arizona, offer regular meat-free or pork-free meals to their inmates in order to accommodate religious dietary restrictions.
Michigan and other states with similar problems need to follow suit in order to create equality. In the case of the restriction of foreign phone calls and letters, many cost-efficient solutions exist: The facilities may hire multi-lingual translators or use other inexpensive technological translating programs already available.
All prisoners, regardless of their minority status or religious affiliation, deserve equal rights. Though some freedoms are limited upon entering prison or jail, the right to the First Amendment is retained. Freedom of religion and speech shouldn’t be undermined in these facilities. Prisoners shouldn’t be discriminated against based on their status as members of minority cultures in the United States. They are citizens of this country and deserve to be treated as such. Correctional departments throughout the country need to re-work their systems in order to promote equality and eliminate discrimination. This is one small step towards ending the extremely unjust conditions prisoners face on a daily basis.