- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 21, 2016

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - A South Dakota prison inmate has filed a federal lawsuit alleging that state corrections staff and a food services company limit his ability to practice his religious beliefs by serving him non-kosher food.

The lawsuit brought last week by inmate James Irving Dale, who describes himself as Jewish, claims that the preparation practices for kosher meals in the kitchen at the state’s medium-security prison do not conform to Jewish dietary laws.

The complaint names several defendants, including Sioux Falls-based Correctional Food Services and the wardens of the Mike Durfee State Prison and the South Dakota State Penitentiary.

Dale, 52, argues that the daily lunch and dinner rice entree for the “religious/kosher trays” is often not kosher and contains pork flavoring and pork byproducts. He also claims to have discovered that no rabbi has been to the prison “to certify, or bless, the kitchen where the rice entree, for the religious/kosher trays, is cooked or the area where the cold portion of the religious/kosher diet trays is prepared.

“Therefore no food that is, or was, cooked or prepared at (Mike Durfee State Prison) is, or was, kosher, even if it started out as kosher.”

South Dakota Department of Corrections spokesman Michael Winder said Wednesday the agency does not comment on pending litigation.

A document provided by the department shows inmates can request a religious or alternative diet that is free of pork or pork products by completing an official form, which must be approved by a cultural activities coordinator within 30 days.

“The inmate’s request for a religious or alternative diet may be granted if providing the diet/meal is within the inherent limitations of resources of the facility and does not limit or detract from the need for facility security, safety, health and good order and the approved operation of a uniform food service program,” according to the department’s policy.

Dale is serving a 15-year sentence on burglary-related charges and is scheduled to be released Nov. 1. His lawsuit asks for punitive and compensatory damages, including $100 for each time he was served food that was not kosher.

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