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Muslim inmate loses Ramadan appeal

June 24, 2015 at 4:25 a.m. | Updated June 24, 2015 at 4:25 a.m.

Missouri corrections officials didn't violate an inmate's rights when they prevented him from taking part in some of the 2010 Ramadan observances at the Jefferson City Correctional Center (JCCC), the state's Appeals Court in Kansas City ruled Tuesday.

John R. Jones, a JCCC inmate serving a life sentence, originally sued 11 prison employees and officials, claiming they had infringed his religious liberties in various ways - including prohibiting him from "fully" participating in observing Ramadan.

All but three of the original defendants were dropped from the suit.

The appeals court's opinion noted Jones became a Muslim in 1993. Ramadan is considered the holiest month of the Muslim calendar and is dedicated to fasting, introspection and prayer.

Because Islam follows a lunar calendar, Ramadan occurs at different times. In 2010, it ran Aug. 11-Sept. 10.

Although prison officials made plans for allowing Muslim inmates to observe the holiday, they also reminded inmates that "inmates placed on cell restriction during Ramadan would be limited in their ability to participate in the congregational aspects of Ramadan," the appeals court noted.

Jones received a conduct violation on July 31 for arguing with a Corrections officer and disobeying orders to leave the prison's dining room - resulting in his being placed on cell restriction from Aug. 6-16.

Jones complained, but officials investigated and upheld the punishment. Jones was confined to his cell during the holiday month's first few days.

When his restriction ended Aug. 16, he went to the kitchen for his pre-dawn meal but was told he had been removed from the participant list and was not permitted to take predawn breakfast. By the time he ate after sundown, the court said, Jones had gone approximately 24 hours without any food or water.

In his lawsuit, assigned to Cole County Circuit Judge Dan Green, Jones argued he had suffered "severe dehydration, starvation and malnutrition" during his time without food and water. Officials argued there was no evidence of that.

On April 10, 2014, Green granted the state's motion for summary judgment in favor of the Corrections employees.

In its 14-page memorandum, the court rejected several of Jones' appeals claims because they concerned the actions of "defendants who were previously dismissed from the case and whose dismissals were not appealed."

The court said Jones' request for a declaratory judgment also can't be granted, because he challenged things that happened in 2010 and alleges no current controversy.

Jones was allowed to read the Qu'ran and pray in his cell, and he was allowed to join the congregational readings and prayers when his cell restriction ended.

He also claimed his First Amendment rights were violated. However, the court pointed to Jones' conduct violation garnering the cell restriction limiting his ability to assemble with other inmates.

"When Jones committed the conduct violation, he chose cell restriction over partaking in the accommodations (the department) had in place that allowed him to participate" in the group parts of Ramadan, the ruling said.

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