American Indian Inmates Sue Maine Prison, Say Religious Requests Denied

American Indian inmates have sued state prison officials again, claiming they've been denied access to key religious requirements such as a sweat lodge, powwows and ceremonial food and music.

The federal lawsuit filed this month said that while Catholic and Protestant inmates can worship privately in the prison chapel, American Indians must conduct some ceremonies outside, in a heavily trafficked area between buildings at the maximum security prison in Warren.

Because of the lack of privacy, participants allege they have been subjected to derogatory comments and unwelcome stares.

Ten inmates and a prisoners group called Sacred Feather, Native American Circle seek a private location to conduct ceremonies and permission for members to buy prayer blankets, tribal attire and other religious items that can be kept in prison cells.

The plaintiffs also want a portion of funds set aside for religious activities.

Denise Lord, associate corrections commissioner, said she was unaware of the lawsuit. But she said progress was being made since the prison settled a 2003 lawsuit that provided an outdoor shelter for religious ceremonies. The inmates say the shelter is inadequate for certain ceremonies.

"It's our intent to continue to work with them to make sure whatever needs or concerns are brought to us are managed in a way that is appropriate in a corrections environment," Lord said.