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State prison relaxes restrictions on Muslim inmates

North Kern State Prison is in Delano, CA.
North Kern State Prison is in Delano, CA. CDCR

North Kern State Prison is relaxing its restrictions on activites for Muslim prisoners. About a dozen prisoners there had contacted the ACLU of Southern California, complaining they weren't allowed to pray in the yard, only in the chapel, which is not always open. They therefore couldn't pray five times a day, as required by their religion. Additionally, inmates said they were not generally allowed to wear their kufis—small, brimless head coverings—and weren't receiving their orders of prayer oil.

ACLU attorney Jessica Price says state prisons are required to make accommodations for inmates with sincere religious beliefs. At first, she thought the kufi restrictions might be a wider safety issue with headgear in general.

"But it turned out, when we further investigated, that the inmates were allowed to wear baseball caps, but they weren't allowed to wear the kufi," she said. "So I think that undercut any potential response that inmates might be hiding something under their headgear. 

The ACLU complained to the state, which agreed to change its policies. Kufis will now be allowed, along with praying in the yard. The prison system is also looking to determine a way for inmates to be allowed a certain amount of prayer oil.

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