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Hennepin County allowing jail inmates to wear religious head coverings

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A new policy will allow inmates at the Hennepin County Jail to wear religious head coverings.

Sheriff Rich Stanek says the move is the first of its kind in Minnesota, WCCO reports. Headwear such as a yarmulke, hijab, or kufi will be issued by the jail when inmates request one but the policy is not limited to those coverings, the station says.

The policy was the product of conversations with the Council on American Islamic Relations. The civil rights director of that group's Minnesota chapter, Saly Abd Alla, tells KSTP: "The new religious headwear policies sends a strong message throughout the state that, regardless of who the individual is or what their situation, we must uphold our principles and follow the law."

Until now the county has accommodated head covering requests on a case-by-case basis, but Stanek tells the Star Tribune that laying out a policy allows the county to be proactive rather than reactive.

Some of the other counties around the country that allow inmates to wear religious head coverings took the step in the wake of a high-profile incident.

When Richland County, South Carolina, announced last year that Muslim women would be allowed to wear head coverings, it followed a complaint from an inmate who said the booking officer had intimidated her into removing her hijab for a photo.

Similarly, King County, Washington – which includes Seattle – developed a policy allowing religious head scarves in mug shots and court appearances after a complaint from a woman who was required to relinquish hers.

Minnesota's first jail-issued head coverings follow on the heels of the first police-issued hijabs. St. Paul police announced at the start of this month that their first female Somali uniformed employee will wear a hijab issued by the department.

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