Law and Religion
12:56 pm
Fri March 1, 2013

Hijab approved for King County jail inmates

Red jumpsuits might be the usual jail uniform in King County. But a new policy has the jail issuing headscarves and yamulkes to inmates.

These items are now allowed in jails and courthouses for prisoners who have religious beliefs that require special headwear. 

It’s not often a Muslim woman ends up in jail, say King County officials.  But, a few years ago, a woman was forced to remove her headscarf – or Hijab -- during her one-night stay in jail. She described it as humiliating, similar to being forced to take off her clothes. 

“This is a larger issue of how is our jail balancing peoples’ right to express their religion ... even in a correctional environment,” says Jennifer Gist of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, an advocacy group for Muslims.

Jews and Sikhs have come to King County jails requesting they keep their headwear too. While the county jail and court staffs were open to accommodating religious beliefs, they did have some problems to solve.

“A turban, obviously, is a long piece of cloth, it’s typically six to eight feet long.  An individual can use that to hurt themselves, or they could also use that to conceal things,” says Commander William Hayes of the county jail in Kent.

Under a new policy that took effect in January, King County inmates are now given generic, department-issued hijab or other head cover, along with their red jumpsuit, says Hayes. The policy also allows spot-checks inside the head coverings, at any time, provided the check is performed by a guard of the same sex as the prisoner.