Senate Advances Senator Cortese's Bill Protecting Inmate Religious Practices

The State Senate unanimously passed legislation by Senator Dave Cortese on Tuesday to create clear rules surrounding the ability of incarcerated people to wear religious clothing, headwear, and grooming. Studies show that free exercise rights established under SB 309 helps reduce violence and other negative behaviors in correctional facilities, and lowers recidivism.

“Whether you are a person of Muslim faith wearing a hijab, a Jewish person wearing a yarmulke, or a Sikh individual wearing a turban — you keep basic civil liberties when incarcerated,” said Senator Cortese (D-San Jose). “SB 309 affirms the right of religious minorities to wear garments and beards related to their faith while incarcerated.”

While policies by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) mention the right to certain religious clothing and headwear, the rules are limited to state-run facilities. Each local detention facility is left to adopt its own policies and procedures.

SB 309 would create a consistent and codified policy for state and local correction and detention facilities that ensures the right of religious people to continue to wear their own religious clothing or headwear until they can access similar garments provided by the facility. The bill also requires detention facilities to allow people to keep their hair or beards for religious purposes.

SB 309 is sponsored by the California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and cosponsored by the Tayba Foundation.