COLUMBIA, SC — Richland County’s jail has made an adjustment to its booking policy following a complaint by a former inmate.
An unidentified woman booked into the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center Dec. 31 reported to a national Muslim relations center that she was forced to remove her religious head covering, known as a hajib, in the presence of men in order to have her booking photograph taken.
The complaint, made to the Center for American-Islamic Relations, resulted in a request from the organization to jail director Ronaldo Meyers to change the booking policy, which Meyers did “shortly after” receiving the letter, county spokeswoman Stephany Snowden said.
Now, women who wear hajibs for religious reasons will have their booking photographs taken only in the presence of female jail officers, Snowden said.
“We owe it to people who have religious beliefs to respect that,” she said. “We need to make some adjustments to accommodate them.”
Meyers is out of town Thursday and not available for comment, Snowden said.
In a reply to the Center for American-Islamic Relations, however, he said the jail has “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."
The woman’s charges were not immediately available. In a news release about the incident, the Center for American-Islamic Relations reported that the woman was told to remove her hijab and was “intimidated” by the booking officer into removing it, even though male officers were present.
"We welcome the detention center’s decision to allow detainees to exercise their constitutionally-protected religious freedom," the organization’s national legal director Nadhira Al-Khalili said in a news release. "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."
Booking photographs are critical for officer safety and managing inmates by allowing proper identification, Snowden said. Hajib-wearing women booked into the jail will still have photographs taken without the head coverings, but it is unclear how those photos will be handled in the future.
“This is out of the norm,” Snowden said. “(The booking of hajib-wearing women) is something that doesn’t typically happen.”