Pierce County officials have agreed to make more accommodations for jail inmates who practice Islam as part of a legal settlement announced Wednesday.
Muslims incarcerated in the county lockup now will be provided halal meals, have access to prayer rugs through the jail commissary and be able to congregate in groups of up to five for prayer and religious study, the ACLU of Washington and the Public Interest Law Group said in a news release.
“Persons of all faiths have a constitutional right to practice their religion. This settlement will help ensure fair treatment for Muslim inmates and for inmates of all faiths,” La Rond Baker, an ACLU attorney, said.
The county also agreed to pay $200,000 in legal fees and costs to the attorneys of two former inmates who sued the county in U.S. District Court.
County officials said in a statement that settling the affair “avoids the distraction and expense of prolonged litigation and allows our staff to focus on the work they do for the jail and for the public.”
“Pierce County followed federal law before the suit was filed and will continue in its commitment to the law and religious freedom,” the county’s statement stated. “At our request, the court denied class action certification. Pierce County did not pay any damages to plaintiffs Larry Tarrer or Raymond Garland and disputed many of their claims.”
Tarrer and Garland, both convicted killers, sued the county in 2010, claiming their religious freedoms were abridged while they were incarcerated in the jail. Tarrer is serving a 75-year prison sentence for a shooting that killed one woman and paralyzed her pregnant friend, who also lost the baby. Garland is serving 28 years for killing one man and wounding another person in a Pierce County bar shooting.
The two claimed jail officials burdened Muslims by:
• Forbidding them from participating in group prayer.
• Refusing to accommodate their dietary restrictions by, among other things, offering no halal meats during meals and failing to provide dates during holy day observances.
• Prohibiting certain religious clothing and other items “integral to Islamic faith and worship.”
The men also complained that incarcerated Christians received preferential treatment, including a separate living unit known informally as the “God pod.”
The county countered that it offered Muslim inmates meals that contained no pork, gave them towels on which to say their prayers and afforded access to lavatories to perform ritual cleansing before praying, among other accommodations.Adam Lynn: 253-597-8644 firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/crime @TNTadam