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Waukesha County Jail makes religious texts, halal food more accessible

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The Waukesha County Jail has made religious texts more accessible, and contracted a new food service to meet constitutional standards that protect religious freedom, following a Muslim inmate’s report of religious discrimination, said an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin.

According to an ACLU news release, When Shayne Longley, 28, requested a Quran, he was told by Waukesha County Jail staff to purchase one from the commissary.

Longley, a Muslim, also didn’t have access to meals that satisfy a halal diet. He said he felt shocked, upset and discriminated against, so he wrote to the ACLU.

“I didn’t want any other Muslim brother or sister coming here to go through what I went through,” said Longley. “I wanted to make a change.”

Asma Kadri Keeler, an ACLU attorney and first-generation Indian-Muslim, spoke with Longley and wrote a letter to jail officials.

“What’s unusual about this is not that Mr. Longley made the request,” Keeler said. “It’s that he reported somebody served him meat, and was told it was a non-pork item when it in fact was. That’s the really troubling piece. That’s a gross violation of his religious rights.”

Keeler said the facility responded to the letter, and said that they were not aware of the incident.

“Whether or not that’s true, we’ll never know,” she said. “It’s Mr. Longley’s word against theirs.”

Angela Wollenhaupt, senior correctional facility manager, said Qurans have always been available to inmates for free through the jail’s library circulation system.

“We have never required payment as a precondition to inmate access to a Quran,” Wollenhaupt said in an email. “Qurans will continue to be available to inmates for free through library circulation.”

Wollenhaupt also said halal meal options have always been available.

“Our new food service provider does not offer anything that we did not previously offer to our inmates,” she said. “Kosher, Halal and Ramadan trays were previously available and continue to be available to inmates.”

Wollenhaupt said the jail entered into a contract in fall 2019 for the installation of roaming tablets for inmates, which allows them free access to a number of religious materials, including Qurans.   

It wasn’t Keeler’s first time writing to the jail with concerns of religious discrimination.

Keeler said the jail changed language in its handbook that preferenced one religious faith over others after she sent a separate letter about the wording

“The rights of incarcerated individuals are too often infringed upon and even more so for those who are indigent,” Keeler said. “We hope that other jails across the state will see this positive change at the Waukesha County Jail and guarantee religious rights to those in their custody.”

Eddie Morales can be reached at 414-223-5366 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @emoralesnews.

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