The Vermont Department of Corrections settled a lawsuit with a Jewish former inmate who had been denied kosher food over Passover and ritual items over Chanukah and Purim. As part of its $25,000 settlement with Gordon Bock, 53, the department agreed to alter its policies dealing with the free exercise of religion and rely on the recommendations of the Aleph Institute, a Chabad-Lubavitch organization based in Surfside, Fla.

Bob Moore, director of prison policy oversight at the Aleph Institute, called the case a victory for prisoners of any faith who face bureaucratic and institutional roadblocks in the practice of their religion.

"Inmates do not leave their religious rights at the prison gate," said Moore, who connected Bock to New York attorney Aaron Hauptman, who handled the case. "Unfortunately, states do not move at revolutionary speed when it comes to implementing policy. But this case serves as a wakeup call. As a result of this lawsuit, the state of Vermont has agreed to be more sensitive to inmates' requests."

In his lawsuit, Bock, who was imprisoned between Oct. 22, 2004, and May 10, 2005, charged that prison officials denied his repeated requests to receive kosher food from the Aleph Institute and that they refused to allow him to light a menorah over Chanukah or receive special celebratory foods over Purim.

For his part, Hauptman said that the case was a simple issue of fairness.

"In this case, the department didn't follow their own rules and regulations, which say that sacramental wine and grape juice should be permitted to Jewish prisoners," explained the attorney, who worked with Vermont lawyer Barry Kade on the case. "Here is someone who was trying to become more religious while in prison, and they denied him that right. On Passover, he didn't get matzah, he didn't get grape juice, and he didn't get a Seder plate, which the Aleph Institute offered to send free of charge."

Rabbi Mendel Katz, director of prison outreach programs at the Aleph Institute, said that the case sends an important message to state governments.

"The U.S. Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court have said very clearly that prison officials must meet the religious needs of inmates. That's the law of the land," said Katz. "Even more, from a Jewish perspective, every Jew has a soul, and regardless of whether they've made mistakes in life, that soul needs spirituality more than anyone. Every mitzvah that they can do in prison is part of the process of bettering themselves."

Robert Hofmann, a Vermont corrections commissioner, told the Associated Press that the department has drafted new rules on religious observances since Bock's incarceration that have been well received by inmates, staff and faith communities.