Ct Doc Will Allow Jailed Inmates To Conduct Religious Services


Connecticut’s Department of Correction has decided to develop a mechanism that would allow detained people to lead religious services for their designated religions, a significant policy shift aimed at addressing concerns about religious rights violations in the state’s jails and prisons.

The adjustment is part of a recent settlement between the Connecticut DOC and the federal Department of Justice, which began an investigation in 2020 into whether the state agency complied with the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.

The long-standing federal rule prevents correctional facilities from imposing restrictions on religious expression unless they can demonstrate that their actions are “to further a compelling governmental interest and are the least restrictive ways of doing so.”

The DOC’s current Religious Services Directive prohibits congregations from operating without an authorized chaplain or religious volunteer who practices the same religion, raising serious concerns about the constitutionality and legality of suspending services when someone is unavailable to conduct them.

The agency has agreed to alter the order so that in the absence of an agency chaplain or religious volunteer of the same faith, chaplains of other faiths can supervise collective religious services and programs. The agreement defines collective religious services and programs as any meeting of more than four jailed people for religious objectives, such as communal prayer, holy text study, and holiday observance.

The plan also permits the DOC to assign jailed people, who will be overseen by correctional staff, as “conductors of collective religious services and programs for their designated religion” if a chaplain or volunteer is not available.

The conductor will be approved by the DOC’s director of religious services, who will look at the individual’s disciplinary record, programming record, capacity to connect well with others, and ability to design religious service activities.

The agency’s facilities will also collect and analyze data to evaluate whether there are any “substantial burdens” to accessing collective religious services and activities, as well as whether the agreed-upon policy adjustments have the desired effect of boosting access to services.

In a statement to The Connecticut Mirror on Monday, DOC Commissioner Angel Quiros said the agency is committed to “allowing every individual under our supervision to practice their respective religious beliefs.”

“Aside from these rights being guaranteed in our country’s Constitution, and codified by federal law, it’s simply the right thing to do,” he said.

In a statement, the DOJ stated that it “remains steadfast in its commitment to protecting the religious rights of all persons, including those who are incarcerated.”

“This agreement will protect the religious practices of people held in correctional facilities across Connecticut by expanding the available options for supervising group religious activities,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.

The deal comes nearly a decade after Connecticut settled a federal complaint involving Kevin Harris, an incarcerated individual who sought the DOC’s recognition of the Five-Percent Nation and claimed that his reading materials were confiscated because prison personnel deemed them contraband.

Harris was virtually “barred from practicing his religion in any way,” according to his legal complaint, which was similar to those of two other convicts.

Late last year, the CT Mirror reported that York Correctional in Niantic canceled Muslim religious services for over a month in the midst of an intensifying Middle Eastern conflict and high spikes in Islamophobia. Religious participation has been shown to improve incarcerated people’s personal well-being.

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