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Virginia Prisons Warned of Illegal Policies Preventing Inmates from Observing Ramadan

Fasting Muslim Inmates in Virginia Denied Adequate Food and Water

WASHINGTON, DC — Last Friday, Muslim Advocates, the Islamic Circle of North America’s Council for Social Justice and the Virginia Prison Justice Network sent a letter to the Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC) warning that at least two state prisons have illegally denied sufficient food and water to observant Muslim inmates who are fasting for Ramadan. By not providing adequate food and drink during Ramadan to fasting Muslim inmates, VDOC prevents inmates from practicing their faith fully and freely in violation of the First Amendment. Additionally, Muslim Advocates believes that the problems at these facilities represent a systemic problem at VDOC.

As part of the month-long observance of Ramadan, Muslims must fast from sunrise to sunset. However, inmates in at least two Virginia prison facilities have not been given sufficient food and drink at proper times during non-fasting hours. For example, staffers at Red Onion State Prison have repeatedly failed to serve breakfast before sunrise to inmates who were known to be fasting. Further, inmates at Red Onion and at River North Correctional Center had to wait an hour or more after sundown—after abstaining from food and drink for 16 hours—before they were served dinner. River North staff also have not given Muslim inmates access to adequate potable water during non-fasting hours.

“It is illegal and immoral for Virginia to force Muslims to choose between eating or fasting for Ramadan,” said Nimra H. Azmi, staff attorney at Muslim Advocates. “Ramadan is the holiest month for Muslims. Virginia must ensure that its Muslim inmates are given adequate food and drink in a timely manner so that they can observe it. VDOC must train its staff to prevent this flagrant violation of religious freedom rights from happening again.”

“Just because a person is imprisoned, it does not mean that he/she does not have any rights,” stated Rameez Abid, outreach director for the Islamic Circle of North America’s Council for Social Justice. “Religious freedom extends into the prison walls in the U.S. We are proud to partner with Muslim Advocates on this issue to safeguard rights of Muslim prisoners to be able to freely practice their faith without any hindrance.”

“The Virginia Prison Justice Network understands that Muslim prisoners face extraordinary challenges in fasting and prayer during the month long observance of Ramadan,” said Margaret Breslau, co-founder and steering committee member of the Virginia Prison Justice Network. “They can only rely on the understanding of the prison administration to ensure that their rights are observed. Only by practicing their faith, devotion and reflection can Muslims fulfill their obligation to lead good and purposeful lives. We hope that on an institutional level, VDOC ensures that every Muslim prisoner can fulfill their Ramadan observances in a safe and healthy way.”

Muslim Advocates is a national civil rights organization working in the courts, in the halls of power and in communities to halt bigotry in its tracks. We ensure that American Muslims have a seat at the table with expert representation so that all Americans may live free from hate and discrimination.

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