A new policy drafted in response to a kosher food debate will outline inmates' religious rights at York County Prison.
The change was approved by the prison board Tuesday and came in response to last month's debate over inmates claiming to be Jewish so they could eat kosher meals that are more expensive than the in-house food prepared by prison staff.
Solicitor Don Reihart said the 19-page policy provides for prisoners' Constitutional rights while addressing specific issues surrounding religious accommodations.
For example, American Indians who are serving time can smoke sweet grass - but not tobacco - for their religious rituals, because York County Prison is a tobacco-free campus, Reihart said.
Head covers are outlined for Muslims.
And Jewish prisoners who want to eat kosher can do so, but they might have to provide proof if they flip between kosher and non-kosher meals, he said.
Corrections officers could previously switch prisoners to or from a diet of the pre-packaged kosher meals when they requested, but the new policy will slow the process by mandating a hearing with a deputy warden, Reihart said.
Prisoners who continually switch back and forth, which officials said food-bored prisoners were doing on a whim, will have to provide evidence proving they're Jewish or supporting a conversion, he said. They can appeal if they disagree with the deputy warden's decision.
The increase: The kosher food issue presented last month after Warden Mary Sabol attributed part of an increase in food costs to prisoners switching to kosher food.
The kosher meals are bought from a supplier and cost about $8 per meal, nearly four times the cost of meals made in-house.
The average per-meal cost at the prison was $2.04 for the year 2012, but rose to $3.11 for January, prompting the look into escalating costs.
Sabol said kosher meals were only one factor in the increase, which also included a surplus food purchase and an extra five-days because of the reporting cycle.
Food costs fell to $2.37 for the month of February, partially because the number of prisoners eating kosher fell from 140 to 106, Sabol said.
She said she's confident the policy will address any future issues with prisoners switching foods for the wrong reasons.
President Commissioner Steve Chronister agreed.
"I think it makes a whole lot of sense if you're in prison and eating normal prison food and all of the sudden you say you're Jewish one day, you need more proof than that," he said.
Commissioners are expected to approve the policy at one of its upcoming meetings.
- Reach Christina Kauffman at firstname.lastname@example.org.