Inmates of Pierce County Jail who are practicing Muslims will be guaranteed certain religious freedoms even behind bars, according to a settlement between the ACLU and Pierce County reached earlier today.
Now Muslims in custody at Pierce County Jail will be able to receive halal meals, be allowed to congregate in groups of five for prayer or religious study and can access prayer rugs through the jail commissary.
The settlement was part of a lawsuit filed by the ACLU and Public Interest Law Group that challenged jail officials’ failure to accommodate the needs of Muslim inmates, while granting “extra benefits and permissions” to Christian inmates, the ACLU says in a press release.
“Persons of all faiths have a constitutional right to practice their religion. This settlement will help ensure fair treatment for Muslims inmates and for inmates of all faiths,” said ACLU-WA staff attorney La Rond Baker.
The case was brought forth by two convicted murderers -- Larry Tarrer and Raymond Garland, who spent time in Pierce County Jail awaiting trial.
Tarrer was only 17 years old when he was sentenced to 75 years in prison for the murder of a 27-year-old woman and another woman’s unborn child, back in 1991. According to court documents, Tarrer was invited to the victim’s Tillicum apartment and got angry when he apparently lost a Tylenol bottle full of crack cocaine. He began to argue with the two women and in a moment of anger fired off five bullets, killing one of the women. The other woman, who was 7 months pregnant, was paralyzed from the waist down and lost her unborn son.
Garland was convicted of murder in 2004 after he confessed to killing a man he got in an argument with at a Parkland bar. It was Garland’s 21st birthday and he showed the victim his gang tattoos. When the man replied he wasn’t interested in gangs and appeared to get confrontational with Garland, he pulled a handgun from his waistband and fired three shots at the victim before a punch was thrown.
Garland is currently serving a 28-year, 10 month sentence in state prison after he was convicted of second degree murder, second degree assault and unlawful possession a firearm.
The two men met in jail and both encountered numerous barriers to practicing their faith, according to the ACLU release. They were allegedly forbidden to participate in group prayer and jail officials failed to recognize their dietary restrictions or allow them to wear religious clothing.
The men also claimed that incarcerated Christians received special treatment and lived in a separate unit, known informally as the “God Pod.”
As part of the settlement, Pierce County has agreed to pay $200,000 in legal fees and costs.
“Pierce County is committed to respecting the religious rights of inmates from all faiths, but not at the cost of inmate and staff security. Pierce County followed federal law before the suit was filed and will continue in its commitment to the law and religious freedom,” said Pierce County deputy prosecutor Michelle Luna-Green in a statement. “At our request, the court denied class action certification. Pierce County did not pay any damages to plaintiffs Tarrer or Garland and disputed many of their claims. The County agreed to pay a portion of the attorney fees claimed by the ACLU, which 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.”
Patch plans to follow up with Pierce County to discuss how these new regulations will affect staffing and resources at Pierce County Jail. Click 'Keep Me Posted' to be notified of the update.
Do you think Muslim prisoners should have the right to gather in worship, be allowed dietary restrictions and wear religious clothing while incarcerated? Tell us in the comments.