Jail changes religious head coverings policy after incident

Published: Mar. 14, 2013 at 5:59 PM EDT|Updated: Mar. 24, 2013 at 6:00 PM EDT
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This is a stock image of a woman wearing a hijab shawl.
This is a stock image of a woman wearing a hijab shawl.

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Leadership at Richland County's jail have altered policy to allow Muslim women to wear religious head coverings during booking and detention after a New Year's Eve incident that was reported to a national Muslim advocacy group.

The Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) Thursday welcomed a decision by the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center to allow female inmates to wear religious head coverings, called "hijab."
The nation's largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization made the request for a policy change following a complaint from a Muslim woman who was taken into custody on December 31, 2012.

According to CAIR, she was allegedly told to remove her hijab so she could have her booking photograph taken. The booking officer reportedly disregarded the woman's religious concerns and intimidated her into removing her scarf in the presence of a male officer.

The Muslim inmate's husband was allegedly informed that "all Muslim women take off their scarves" when in custody. 

In a letter to CAIR, Ronaldo D. Myers, director of the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center, wrote: "As requested, we have reviewed and updated our policies to ensure clarity with our staff on the processing and searching of female detainees of the Muslim faith, and specifically have exempted the wearing of religious headwear from our facility's 'Prohibited Acts' policy."

"During this brief stay, any removal of her religious headgear was undertaken relative to ASGDC's intake and processing policies and procedures to ensure detainee, staff and public safety," wrote Myers.

"We welcome the detention center's decision to allow detainees to exercise their constitutionally-protected religious freedom," said CAIR National Legal Director Nadhira Al-Khalili. "We have recently received reports of denial of religious rights at correctional institutions in other states and are working to achieve similarly positive resolutions in those cases."

Officials at the Lexington County Detention Center say a situation such as this has not yet come up at the jail. If an inmate makes such a request in the future, the jail's administrator and general counsel for the sheriff's department would consult with a faith leader, review best practices across the country and make a recommendation to Sheriff Metts. A sheriff's department spokesperson says the decision would be made to keep a balance between "confinement concerns and faith issues."

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