SAN FRANCISCO — A federal appeals panel ruled Thursday the California Department of Corrections cannot punish Muslim inmates who miss prison work assignments to attend a Sabbath service.
The case stems from a class-action suit representing about 300 Muslim inmates at a medium-security state prison in Vacaville. The prison reduces time for prisoners who work at the prison. Inmates sued the prison in 1996, saying they were being unfairly punished for missing work schedules when they attended a Friday service on prison grounds. A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the prisoners, saying the prison’s policy violated their rights to freedom of religion. The penalties for missing work assignments include suspension of privileges, confinement to cells and a loss of early release credits.
Judge Dorothy W. Nelson wrote that freedom of religion in prisons “is obviously in the public interest,” and noted that attendance of religious services are “commanded by the Koran.”
The decision upholds a federal judge’s injunction that prohibited the department from punishing inmates who miss work to attend services.
The case is Mayweathers v. Newland, 00-16708.