A civil rights group recently alleged a privately run Kansas prison subjected a Muslim woman to religious discrimination for months for wearing a headscarf.
The prisoner, Valeriece Ealom, said correctional officers at the Leavenworth Detention Center (LDC) repeatedly belittled her and called her headscarf a “rag.” She claimed they even ordered her to take it off before allowing her to leave her cell.
The national legal advocacy group, Muslim Advocates, raised concerns about the treatment of the 49-year-old inmate in a letter to CoreCivic, a Tennessee-based company which happens to be one of America’s largest private prison operators.
“While LDC’s management has been aware of her mistreatment, they have failed to take any meaningful corrective action and USMS has likewise permitted this harassment to continue for months,” the letter said.
According to the Kansas City Star, Ealom has been held at the facility since last November, when prosecutors revoked her parole in a drug case. Ealom reportedly informed the authorities she would need a headscarf and subsequently a LDC chaplain gave her with two headscarves to wear.
“Like many Muslim women, Ms. Ealom believes it is her fundamental obligation to practice modesty by wearing a headscarf,” the letter continued.
After she started covering her hair, three prison officers allegedly started to harass her and threatened to discipline her if she did not take it off.
Ealom notified prison management about the officers’ actions.
However, unfortunately, that just made things worse. At one point, two officers reportedly refused to let her leave her cell while wearing her headscarf.
Moreover, earlier this year in January, Ealom was told by one of the officers she would be put in solitary confinement if she didn’t remove her headscarf and that “any grievance she filed would be shredded,” the Muslim Advocates’ letter stated.
The group claimed the officers continued to torment her every now and then. For instance, on one occasion, an officer confiscated Ealom’s headscarf claiming it was “contraband” and “belligerently” interrupted her during prayers.
Other times, a guard interrupted her prayers to search her cell.
When the harassment didn’t stop, the woman even filed a federal civil lawsuit, without a lawyer. However, in June, a judge dismissed the suit, saying Ealom didn’t provide enough information.
“The prison’s management has failed to take any meaningful correction action and that the Marshals Service has permitted this harassment to continue,” the Muslim Advocates wrote in the letter.
“Despite being aware of the officers’ bigoted and discriminatory conduct, LDC’s management has not taken any meaningful steps to address the situation. In fact, by refusing to take any corrective action, LDC’s management has only blessed further wrongdoing,” they added.
CoreCivic responded to the letter by releasing the following statement:
“CoreCivic cares deeply about every person in our care, and we work hard to ensure those in our facility are treated respectfully and humanely. We do not tolerate discrimination of any kind, and cultural and ethnic sensitivity education is part of every employee’s training.”
The company’s public affairs director, Amanda Gilchrist, said the facility has a “robust grievance process” for inmates to raise concerns.
“Ms. Ealom has availed herself of those mechanisms on several occasions, and the facility has responded and continues to respond appropriately,” Gilchrist wrote. “Both the facility Chaplain and Warden have provided assistance to Ms. Ealom with regard to her religious head gear, and will continue to address any concerns she raises promptly.”
Regardless, the LDC has frequently come under fire in recent years. In fact, the facility is currently in a center of maelstrom of an ongoing legal action over tapping the phone calls between prisoners and their legal attorneys.
The prison also came under increased scrutiny when a Justice Department audit found evidence last year of understaffing, security and attempts to hide “triple-bunking” practices from inspectors.
For the matter in question, the Muslim Advocates pressed the LDC to take necessary corrective measures.
“We ask that CoreCivic and USMS take immediate measures to address the pattern of religious discrimination at LDC and ensure that Ms. Ealom and other Muslim women housed in CoreCivic and U.S. Marshal facilities around the country can practice their faith without fear of harassment or retaliation,” the group stated.
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