New York – Councilman Greenfield and the leaders of Dror met with NYC Department of Corrections Commissioner Joseph Ponte to address ongoing religious issues many frum inmates have faced while in the custody of the New York City prison system. Dror, a volunteer run organization that offers free legal assistance to community members and families who have been indicted or imprisoned, has worked for many years with the Federal, New York State and New York City correctional institutions to ensure that while frum people are imprisoned their religious needs are lawfully met. Unfortunately inmates in the NYC correctional facilities continue to face difficulties receiving kosher food and essential religious articles like tefillin while in custody, that is why Councilman Greenfield met with the Commissioner to come up with a strategy to fix these problems. The Commissioner committed to to addressing these issues.
While the Orthodox Jewish population is growing in numbers citywide, only a small fraction of inmates in city prisons are religious therefore the needs and special measures that must be taken to accommodate these inmates are not well known in the corrections system. Dror has found that many of the inmates they work with face several basic challenges while incarcerated. First, it may take a new inmate several days or even up to a week to receive Glatt Kosher food. Second, about half of all male inmates do not have immediate access to teffilin for daily prayers. Lastly, depending on the time of their arrest inmates are sometimes forced to travel to different correctional facilities on the Shabbos. Councilman Greenfield asked that the Department of Corrections (DOC) immediately address these issues and explained what a serious issue it is for these religious persons to not have these basic needs met. The Commissioner was receptive and understanding and suggested several action plans to implement changes right away.
“Thankfully not many members of our community end up in correctional facilities, but it is essential that the ones who do are able to continue to practice their faith throughout the time they spend in prison,” said Councilman David Greenfield. “Commissioner Ponte was extremely understanding of our concerns and even suggested changes on the spot to ease some of these issues. I am very grateful for Commissioner Ponte’s leadership.”
“We have worked successfully with the Federal and New York State correctional systems, but we still have trouble meeting inmates’ basic needs in New York City jails. On behalf of Dror and all those that we serve, we thank Councilman Greenfield for setting up this meeting and the Commissioner for working with us to address these problems,” said Rabbis Chaim Hirsch Freund and Amrom Israel of Dror.
DOC committed to examining and addressing the issues raised by the Councilman and Dror. DOC will review its process by which inmates can request and receive kosher food to ensure that no inmate is left without religiously appropriate food for long. Additionally DOC committed to working with members of Dror to enable them to bring tefillin and other essential religious articles into prisons for any inmates in need.