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Saturday, January 22, 2011

Scranton, PA - Prison Denies Violating Jewish Inmate Rights with Menu

Ariel Ephraim Varsanyi, now transferred to a state prison, alleged harm because diet didn’t meet standards for his religion.

SCRANTON – Attorneys for the Luzerne County prison have filed court papers denying allegations made by a former inmate who sued the facility, alleging his civil rights were violated because he was denied kosher food in accordance with his religion.

Ariel Ephraim Varsanyi filed suit against the prison in October, alleging his health was being harmed because he was relegated to eating only fruit, milk, bread and water after prison officials refused his demands for a special diet.

Varsanyi, who has since been transferred to a state prison, was temporarily housed at the county facility pending a hearing on assault charges for the August 2009 shooting of Norman Walker of Wilkes-Barre. Those charges were dismissed in November after a judge ruled Varsanyi had not been brought to trial in time.

In his lawsuit, which Varsanyi authored himself, he claims he is an Orthodox Chassidic Jew, which means he can only consume kosher foods. Varsanyi said he advised prison officials of this, but they refused to accommodate his needs.

In a reply to the suit, attorney Sean McDonough said the prison’s food service practice is based on reasonable interests, including efficient food service and in avoiding possible resentment of other inmates.

McDonough said the demands of other inmates who also requested specialized diets for religious reasons have not been honored for the same reason. McDonough also said Varsanyi’s needs were accommodated by providing him nutritionally adequate food alternatives which were in accordance with a kosher diet.

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