Hennepin jail to allow religious head coverings for inmates

Published 10:30am Friday, March 21, 2014

By David Chanen

Inmates at the Hennepin County jail will be allowed to wear religious head coverings, the Sheriff’s Office said Thursday, making it the first law enforcement agency in Minnesota to adopt such a policy.

Just a few hours after Sheriff Rich Stanek announced the change, the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office said it will roll out a similar policy this week.

The new policies were warmly welcomed by representatives of religious and cultural groups.

“This addresses the most fundamental of civil rights,” said Fartun Weli, executive director of Isuroon, a Somali women’s advocacy group. “It’s part of our identity.”

The trauma of an arrest can move a suspect to “seek spiritual relief, but they also have to deal with the shame of not being able to wear a head covering,” Weli said. “This is a big deal to us, but we aren’t saying somebody should receive special treatment because of their religion.”

Although both sheriff’s offices had been considering the changes for nearly a year, a compelling letter from the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) to Stanek last fall drove home the importance of allowing religious garb in jail, the sheriff said.

In Hennepin County, at least a couple of dozen inmates each year will be affected. When individuals wearing a head covering such as yarmulke, hijab or kufi are booked into jail, they will be taken to a private area where the clothing item will be searched and inventoried. For security reasons, the jail then will provide a replacement.


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