A Muslim woman has been facing religious discrimination and harassment by authorities at a privately run prison in Kansas, a civil rights group said Wednesday.
Washington D.C.- based Muslim Advocates said Valeriece Ealom has complained that prison guards at the Leavenworth Detention Center have repeatedly criticized her for wearing a headscarf and told her on multiple occasions to remove the "rag" from her head before she left her cell. They also threatened to discipline her if she did not take it off.
The group said they took the case because it highlights a common problem in prisons where Muslim women are discriminated against for wearing a headscarf.
"Muslim Advocates believes that it is essential to safeguard Muslim women's rights to practice their faith in accordance with their beliefs while incarcerated," Scott Simpson, its public advocacy director, told Anadolu Agency.
Ealom, who was convicted of drug charges, has been held at the prison, operated by Tennessee-based company CoreCivic, since November after having her parole revoked. It is unclear when she will be scheduled for release.
CoreCivic was granted control of the correctional facility through a contract with the U.S. Marshals Service.
The group sent a letter Wednesday to CoreCivic, U.S. Marshal Ronald Miller and Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz detailing how Ealom was being treated.
The U.S. Marshalls Service “should ensure that personnel at all CoreCivic facilities are appropriately trained and educated with regard to religious head coverings, religious accommodations and facility grievance procedures”, Muslim Advocates said in the letter.
After she filed a complaint to management, the prison guards retaliated in several ways, including having her headscarves confiscated and being denied medication, according to Muslim Advocates.
Ealom was unable to cover her hair for four weeks, something that is consistent with her religious beliefs and obligations.
By sending the letter, she wanted the prison to understand what religious headcoverings are and ensure that Muslim women inmates do not face this kind of treatment, according to Muslim Advocates.
“Ms. Ealom's aim has always been to be able to wear her headscarf without being harassed or retaliated against by prison employees. As Muslim Advocates mentions in the letter, she wants the prison staff to be educated on religious headcoverings to ensure that neither she nor any other Muslim woman detained in a CoreCivic facility has to experience this kind of discrimination again,” Simpson added.
CoreCivic has come under scrutiny in recent years for major problems it has faced, including understaffing and security.
The Department of Justice did an audit of the Leavenworth Detention Center in April and found the private prison had failed to address these staffing issues and the vacancies led to multiple security gaps within the prison.
Muslim Advocates currently has no plans to file a lawsuit and is hoping the issue will be resolved without litigation.