ACLU claims LA jails violating Muslim inmates' worship rights

The Men's Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles.
The Men's Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles.

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Civil liberties advocates are renewing their complaints against the Los Angeles County Sheriff's office for what they say are years of discriminating against inmates of Muslim faith.

In a letter sent to the L.A. County Sheriff Friday morning, Jessica Price, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Southern California, said the primary issue revolves around policies at Men's Central Jail and the Twin Towers Correctional Facility that get in the way of Jumu'ah, a group prayer held on Fridays.

"Of particular concern is the ongoing denial of access to congregational prayer for Muslim inmates," Price writes. "Jail officials have persisted in preventing certain Muslim inmates from gathering for Jumu'ah, despite allowing inmates with the same security levels to attend congregational prayer services of other faiths."

The ACLU first approached then-Sheriff Lee Baca about the issue in 2012. A letter dated from January 2012 asked Baca to look into a number of complaints, including Muslim inmates being denied halal meals, strip searches of male inmates in front of women, and lack of access for inmates to a Muslim chaplain.

According to the Islamic Center of Southern California, the sheriff's department began serving halal meals and allowing services shortly after the letter was sent. 

But the department's responsiveness appears to have waned sometime after that.

In a second letter, dated November 2013, the ACLU asked the department to ensure it will provide equal access to religious services for Muslim inmates. In Friday's letter, Price said the department never responded to that request. 

"This stark imposition on a significant religious activity constitutes an effective prohibition on the right of the affected Muslim inmates to practice their religion," Price writes.

Price asked for a response within two weeks or else she said her group must consider "other options" including a lawsuit.