Muslim jail inmates now guaranteed religious access in LA

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Communal prayer at L.A.'s County jails is now guaranteed for Muslim inmates, following a new directive by the L.A. County Sheriff's Department.

Muslim inmates in L.A.'s jails have complained to community groups over the past couple of years that they've been denied the congregational prayer services afforded to inmates of other religions. They appealed to the ACLU of Southern California and the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California, which sent a letter to the department in March asking for change. 

Then, a couple of months ago, the sheriff's department issued a directive, instructing deputies working the jails to allow communal prayers. Earlier this week, the department updated the directive--agreeing to provide chaplains of other faiths to lead services when an Imam's not available.

"It's just us taking that extra step to make sure everybody understands what's going on and everybody's respectful of everybody's religious rights," said Sgt. Juan Martinez.

Martinez said about 140 or so Muslim inmates systemwide have been gathering for prayers under the new directive. In some jails, like Twin Towers Correctional Facility and Century Regional Detention Facility, group services have been logistically hard to coordinate because of facility layout, so inmates are offered chaplains who come to their cells.

He said the sheriff's department has also started educating deputies more on Ramadan, Passover, and other religious holidays.

Shakeel Syed, executive director of the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California, said the change is a big one for Muslim inmates, who have lacked the benefits and comfort of communal prayer.

"That's an inherent human right of every human being to seek spiritual guidance and connection with whoever they choose to," Syed said.

Syed said he hopes all jails in the system will eventually be able to allow larger scale communal religious gatherings.

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