One of Nashville's most notorious criminals is unhappy with the prison food.
Perry A. March filed a more than 200-page lawsuit on Feb. 3 in federal court in Nashville, alleging the quality of the kosher diet he receives is substandard and a veiled attempt to force him to break the tenets of his religion.
March is a decade into a 56-year prison term in the 1996 disappearance of his wife, Janet March, and a subsequent plot to murder her parents.
He's lodging legal complaints that the Tennessee Department of Correction and food service giant Aramark are deliberately discriminating against him by providing meals that are not nutritious and do not adhere to the Jewish laws regulating diet and preparation of food. The state prison system and Aramark stand by their food service.
March, the 56-year-old former lawyer who is representing himself, writes that he believes the prison system is pressuring him to give up his religious practices by serving soy meals that are of a poor quality and offering a kosher diet plan with far fewer entree options than standard meal plans. He is incarcerated at Morgan County Correctional Complex northwest of Oak Ridge.
He blames cost cutting and corporate greed for the substandard suppers.
"By way of their well-disguised anti-Semitism, Plaintiff (March) avers that all of the efforts expended by the various Defendants in this case are designed to pursue a singular, nefarious Grail — the corporate greed of Aramark, and its lackeys," March writes.
Kosher meals were in high-demand in 2013, March writes, a time when another provider supplied pre-made meals to the prisons. He suggests there was an outbreak of "crypto-Jews," that is, inmates he says pretended to be Jewish to get the meals that they used as currency of prison commerce to exchange for contraband.
Last year, the state dumped its troubled food service provider after an audit exposing financial issues and contracted with Aramark, the Philadelphia-based giant that provides meal services to venues across the country.
Department of Correction policies require facilities to provide therapeutic, religious, vegan or vegetarian or standard meals for inmates.
“While it would be inappropriate for us to comment on pending legal matters, we remain committed to ensuring offenders are provided with quality, nutritious meals," department spokeswoman Alison Randgaard said in an email.
An Aramark representative said registered dietitians approve the meals and ensure they comply with industry standards and state requirements. Spokeswoman Karen Cutler said lawsuits such as March's are commonplace due to the nature of the business.
"As a leader in the Corrections industry for 40 years, serving hundreds of facilities around the country, we are confident that the meals served at Tennessee Department of Correction meet the requirements specified by the state and our high quality standards," Cutler said in an email.
Tennessee is one of at least 35 state prison systems and the federal Bureau of Prisons provide kosher meals to inmates, according to Luke Goodrich, deputy general counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a nonprofit law firm that advocates free expression of religion.
"The vast majority of states provide observant Jewish prisoners with kosher diets, and the vast majority of courts that have addressed the issue have said that prisons are required to do so," he said. He noted that evaluating the sincerity of an inmate can be a challenge, and said complaints like March's highlight another concern.
"There have been a lot of complaints in certain jurisdictions about kosher meals being far worse than the general population meals," he said. "It really depends on the prison system."
Reach Stacey Barchenger at 615-726-8968, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @sbarchenger.