By CAMERYN CASS
Capital News Service
LANSING — A new policy that will allow practitioners of any religion to keep their head covering on for identification photos will soon be implemented in state prisons after several years of complaints.
The policy starting Nov. 29 is largely in response to an ongoing lawsuit filed by the Council on American-Islamic Relations last December, said Chris Gautz, a public information officer for the Department of Corrections.
The existing policy requires removal of head coverings for identification photos that prisoners wear when they go to different parts of the prison, Gautz said. Eventually, these photos are put online on the Offender Tracking Information System for public security reasons .
The new policy balances security concerns and religious practices, Gautz said.
“Safety and security is always job one,” said Gautz. “But we can also work to be understanding and respectful of someone’s religious beliefs.”
The policy does not allow photos with the face covered.
The Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility in Ypsilanti will be affected most by the change because such religious restrictions affect mostly women, said Zienab Fahs, the director of advocacy at the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
The majority of complaints are from Muslim and Moorish Science women forced to remove their religious head coverings, Fahs said. Women from all religions can and do wear headscarves.
The Michigan chapter complained about the issue at least as early as 2017, and likely before then, Fahs said.
Eventually the group decided the lawsuit was the only option to see change, Fahs said. Head
coverings are deeply meaningful and religiously significant to those who wear them, so having to publicly take them off is problematic.
“The closest thing I could compare it to is feeling naked,” said Fahs, “feeling like someone is seeing a part of you that you don’t want to show them.”
The new policy still requires a second confidential photo be taken with no headscarf for prison use, Fahs said. Council officials say the second photo is unnecessary and still carries the risk of male officers or other workers seeing it.
For federal identification photos, like passports and driver’s licenses, people are allowed to keep on their head scarf so long as the face is visible, Fahs said.
“You can still ID someone based on the facial features that are showing,” Fahs said.
Though it took the Corrections Department some time to get on board and respond to their concerns, Fahs says the new policy is a step in the right direction.
“It goes back to upholding and protecting those rights that we already have, which is the freedom of religion, regardless of the space you’re in,” Fahs said. “We want to make sure we’re protecting those rights for all people.”