Gone are the days when prisoners were given just bread and water behind bars. These days, inmates are served a variety of foods, but some are requesting a special diet to accommodate their religious beliefs.
"It's a very frustrating issue," said Senator Rob Bradley, who chairs the Appropriations Sub-Committee on Criminal and Civil Justice, which oversees the budget for the Department of Corrections.
Florida is now under federal court order to offer kosher meals to Jewish inmates -- which Bradley says will really add up.
"It's a little over $2 a meal for a regular prison meal and $7 for a kosher meal," said Bradley.
The Orange Park Republican says that can add up to more than $40 million a year, according to estimates provided by the DOC to Bradley.
"I am stunned by the numbers that it cost that much because that's taxpayer dollars that could be spent educating our kids, paying our teachers more, improving our roads and better medical care for Floridians," said Bradley.
Supporters of the recent court action say there really was no choice.
"Religious rights don't stop at the prison gate," said Chaplin Gary Friedman, who is chairman of Jewish Prisoner Services International.
Friedman says his home state of Washington has been offering kosher meals for years and that's the case in dozens of states.
"This has been going on with Florida now for at least 12 years that I've been involved with. It's been back and forth and back and forth so this is long, long overdue."
The recent court order was praised the Council on American-Islamic Relations as a step in the right direction.
"We feel that they should offer the same accommodations to Muslim inmates and all inmates regardless of their religious beliefs," said Hassan Shibly, executive director of CAIR's Tampa office.
Shibly is pushing for halal foods, which he says cost much less than kosher meals.
"For Muslim prisoners, the kind of meal they can eat is basically food which has been slaughtered properly with the name of god by a practicing Jew, Muslim or Christian, and that doesn't include any pork in it."
The final outcome has yet to be resolved. Lawyers for Florida's Department of Corrections plan to argue the merits of religious meals in court this summer. A trial is scheduled for August.
WJBK-TV | Fox 2
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