Some have no appetite for prisoners' special meals - KMSP-TV

Some have no appetite for prisoners' special meals

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TAMPA (FOX 13) -

What's on the menu inside Florida prisons is turning the stomachs of some Florida lawmakers, but they had no answers for it during this past legislative session in Tallahassee.

What they find hard to stomach is the cost of special meals to accommodate religious preferences as much as two and three times more than standard fare.

Kosher meals for Jewish prisoners and halal food for Muslim inmates. FOX 13 first exposed this issue several months ago.

"Let's not lose sight of the fact that these people are in prison for a reason," said Senator Rob Bradley (R) Orange Park. He chairs the Senate Appropriations Sub-Committee on Criminal and Civil Justice, which oversees the budget for the Department of Corrections.

According to FDOC, more than 4,000 inmates are now asking for and receiving special meals as part of a pilot program and the numbers keep growing.

The agency estimates that it could wind up costing more than $40 million a year if the meals are offered to every Florida inmate. Representative Darryl Rouson (D) St. Petersburg is also worried about the cost, but tells FOX 13 inmates still have rights.

"Just because a person is incarcerated, does not mean they lose their dignity, self-respect or even in this case their ability to express their faith in however they choose to do so."

But Rouson adds, "We have to be good stewards of the taxpayer dollars. The biggest challenge is how can you afford to do so when you are already running deficits and huge holes in the Department of Corrections budget."

Opinions are mixed among people in the Tampa Bay area who spoke with FOX 13.

"I think everybody's religious beliefs should be respected and as a taxpayer I can support that," said Tampa resident Mike Ruiz.

"They're being punished, they are there for a reason," said Charles Cameron. "I don't think they should get special accommodations."

Late last year, a federal judge in Miami ordered that Florida offer religious meals, but the Florida Attorney General's Office is appealing the ruling and a trial is set for this summer.

"It's a very frustrating issue," Bradley said.

The case could one day wind up in the U.S. Supreme Court.

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