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Death Row Convert Loses Bid for Kosher Prison Food

A federal judge in Connecticut rejected a death row inmate’s motions for a hearing and a temporary injunction in a lawsuit against the state for not providing him with kosher prison food.

Steven Hayes, who was convicted in the 2007 murder of a woman and her two daughters, sued the state’s Department of Corrections in August for allegedly not serving him kosher food.

U.S. District Court Judge Alvin Thompson issued his ruling last week. He said Hayes receives meals that are certified by two rabbis, who monitor the preparation of kosher food in the state’s prison system, the Associated Press reported.

An amended complaint filed earlier this month said he has not eaten any non-kosher food since Aug. 24 and is now down to 120 pounds. In the lawsuit, Hayes describes himself as an Orthodox Jew and says he has been asking for kosher food since May 2013.

In his lawsuit, Hayes said that the prison’s kitchen is not certified to provide strictly kosher food. He said the kitchen staff told him the food served at the prison is “kosher-like.”

Hayes and Joshua Komisarievsky were sentenced to death for the murders of Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her daughters during a home invasion in which two of the victims were sexually assaulted and the house was set on fire. They also severely beat Hawke-Petit’s husband, Dr. William Petit, who survived.

Hayes said the state is violating his First Amendment right to free exercise of religion by preventing him from eating kosher food. He also accused the state of violating his Eighth Amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment.

He requested a trial by judge and asked for an injunction ordering the Department of Corrections to provide pre-packaged kosher meals to all Jewish prisoners in Connecticut’s prisons. He also sought $15,000 in punitive and compensatory damages for “intentional infliction of pain, suffering and resulting weight loss from the deliberate denial of a kosher diet.”

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