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Press Release

Justice Department Announces Successful Policies Overhaul at Michigan Department of Corrections to Expand Opportunities for Religious Exercise

For Immediate Release
Office of Public Affairs

The Justice Department announced today that the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) has successfully implemented reforms required by a 2021 settlement agreement that resolved alleged violations of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). The settlement agreement addressed MDOC’s now revised policies that required a five-person minimum for group worship and religious activities, prohibited group religious practice for certain religious groups, including Hindu, Yoruba, Hebrew Israelite and Thelema practitioners, and limited access to the kosher-for-Passover diet to those on the kosher diet year-round.  

MDOC changed each of these policies to expand access to religious practice in compliance with the settlement. Under the revised policies, MDOC allows group religious practice for groups of two or more, permits previously banned religious groups to hold group services and allows people to participate in the Passover diet even if they do not participate in the kosher diet year-round. Department monitoring revealed that a significant number of people whose religious exercise was previously limited by policy can now worship together and can celebrate Passover consistent with their beliefs.

“All people have the right to religious freedom and the right to be free from religious discrimination in our country, and that right exists across the country, including inside our jails and prisons,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Our settlement with MDOC stands as a model, helping to increase access by incarcerated people to meaningful religious activities across the system.”

“U.S. citizens do not surrender their right to religious freedom upon incarceration, and my office will not stop defending an individual’s right to exercise one’s faith simply because they are serving a sentence,” stated U.S. Attorney Dawn N. Ison for the Eastern District of Michigan. “We are extremely pleased to see that MDOC has made significant and systemic changes to ensure that inmates in our state can practice their religion while in custody.”

“Our office is committed to enforcing federal civil rights laws, which protect the fundamental right of our citizens to freely exercise religion,” said First Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer McManus for the Western District of Michigan. “The settlement we reached with MDOC in 2021 protects that right and has resulted in meaningful change that allows institutionalized persons in Michigan to practice their religion and participate in religious services free from unlawful burdens.”

This joint investigation by the Civil Rights Division’s Special Litigation Section and the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices for the Eastern and Western Districts of Michigan began in 2019. The settlement agreement was signed in 2021. Since that time, the Justice Department closely monitored implementation, reviewing documents and conducting site visits. MDOC maintained substantial compliance with the settlement agreement for two years and, as a result, the department has concluded its monitoring activities. 

For additional information about the Civil Rights Division and the Special Litigation Section, please visit Those interested in finding out more about RLUIPA may visit

Updated January 18, 2024

Civil Rights
Press Release Number: 24-65