St. Louis County Jail changes search policies to address Muslim religious concerns

The St. Louis County jail has decided to change its search policies after hearing from Muslim leaders who were upset over the forced removal of a woman’s religious headscarf earlier this year.

From now on, a woman wearing a hijab will be allowed to go into a private room to have the headscarf searched, then will be allowed to put it back on for the rest of the time that she is held at the jail — at least for as long as jailers are processing her arrest. The jail is still researching how to handle the issue with inmates who are housed there long-term.

The St. Louis Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations had raised concerns about jail policy last week after learning that Basra Noor, 23, of Ballwin, had hers was taken despite her protests after she was arrested Jan. 24 near a West County mosque because of a warrant for an expired car registration. That prompted a meeting Monday between the group and other Muslim leaders and police and jail officials.

“We had a really good discussion,” said Herb Bernsen, director of St. Louis County Justice Services. “We did agree on some measures we could adopt right away … that would satisfy our security concerns as well as the religious concerns.” Bernsen said they are still trying to work out a compromise for mug shots and plan further conversations.

Faizan Syed, executive director of the Muslim advocacy group, said he was equally happy with the tone and outcome of Monday’s meeting. He said Police Chief Tim Fitch, who was also at the meeting, had urged the group to come forward if any other concerns should arise in the future. “It was a very productive meeting,” he said. “It really built bridges of understanding between us and (officials).”

STLtoday, 23 April 2012

See also CAIR press release, 23 April 2012