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Michigan prison agency reaches settlement with U.S. Justice Department on religious practice policies

Some Michigan prisons are accelerating the return of staff after a positive coronavirus test.
Office of Legislative Corrections Ombudsman
Some Michigan prisons are accelerating the return of staff after a positive coronavirus test.

The U.S. Department of Justice has reached an agreement to resolve an investigation into state prison policies regarding religious practices.

The investigation and agreement addressed MDOC’s policy of a five-person minimum for group worship and religious activities, its policy of prohibiting group religious practice for certain religious groups, including Hindu, Yoruba, Hebrew Israelite and Thelema practitioners, and its restrictions limiting access to the kosher-for-Passover diet to those on the kosher diet year-round.

This week, the corrections department will make changes to all those policies.

“The religious rights of all people, including those detained inside our nation’s jails and prisons, must be protected,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “This settlement will protect the religious practices of incarcerated persons across Michigan.”

MDOC will also provide training to staff and chaplains involved in implementing the revised policy.

“The Michigan Department of Corrections respects the rights of individuals to practice their chosen faith and thinks these changes will improve upon our already existing religious policies and enhance the ability of prisoners to express their faith,” says Chris Gautz, MDOC spokesman.

The U.S. Department of Justice will have access to documents and correctional facilities to assess compliance with the agreement.

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.
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