May 31, 2011

Nation's Prisons Face Soaring Demand for Kosher Food; Estimate at $40 Million

Seattle, WA — Can one celebrate freedom behind bars? Ask the hundreds of kosher consuming prisoners who partook in seders this past Passover holiday. Indeed, the Jewish prisoner population in the United States today numbers in the thousands, making for a plethora of penitently-style kosher meals to be manufactured, served, and consumed, according to Chaplain Gary Friedman, a long time prison chaplain in the Washington State Department of Corrections and executive director of Jewish Prisoner Services International. “One of the key problems, with regards to Jewish religious observance and kosher food in America’s prisons today, is the sheer volume of prisoners claiming to be Jewish,” said Chaplain Friedman. He continued: “I would roughly estimate the additional cost for kosher food at forty million dollars a year for the nation's prisons. While less than 1.5% of America’s prisoners are Jewish, many more claim Judaism as their religion, leading to a possibly untenable situation where kosher food must be provided for thousands of prisoners who are not members of the Jewish faith.” Chaplain Friedman concluded that, “If only those prisoners who were actually Jewish claimed Judaism as their religion and requested kosher food, there would be no problem with any particular prisoner receiving kosher meals. The problems, such as the recent Court challenge in Indiana, are due to the prisoners who, despite not being Jewish, claim to be Jewish and request kosher food. The negative impact of this phenomenon, namely the increase in food costs and associated administrative hassles is absorbed by the state at the expense of the Jewish religious population that actually requires kosher food.” Why would a non-Jewish prisoner want to eat kosher? “For some it’s a paranoia issue; they think that people are tampering with their food, while others believe that kosher food is healthier or better tasting,” says Chaplain Friedman. He added that “in many prisons, those receiving kosher food do so as a group, which allows for prisoners to meet three times a day. In fact, in Washington State we had a whole group of Neo-Nazis claiming to be Jewish due to this auxiliary benefit.” From the food manufacturer’s perspective, providing kosher food to prisons can translate into big business. Since the overwhelming majority of prisons do not have hot kosher kitchens, many kosher diets consist of shelf stable foods. Indeed, Alle Processing’s shelf stable “Amazing Meals” can be found in prisons across the country.