The coup de grace for Virginia’s prison system (and taxpayers), losers of the legal jihad. The government prison system is now forced to provide:
- Muslim reading materials
- Muslim CDs and DVD’s
- $2,500 on Islamic library materials for the Greensville Correctional Center
- hire a Muslim inmate to work in the library
- inmates at Greensville will be allowed to donate religious materials to the library
- Al-Amin was even allowed to submit his own list of Islamic reading materials, movies and CDs
- department also agreed to allow Al-Amin to use his religious name
- allow inmates to assist in the preparation of religious meals
Everything a prison needs to be a jihad teaching factory. Even a sympathetic interviewee saw how bad the settlement was and provided the understatement of the day: “That’s a terrible settlement. It sets a very bad precedent.” via Va. inmate’s win in suit against government a rarity | HamptonRoads.com | PilotOnline.com.
Rashid Qawi Al-Amin succeeded where thousands of Virginia prison inmates before him have failed: He prevailed in a lawsuit against the government.
Al-Amin won a settlement with the state that forces the prison system to supply him, and the Greensville Correctional Center library, with Muslim reading materials, CDs and DVDs. He’ll also receive $2,000.
Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s office decided to settle the seven-year legal battle after a series of court rulings in Al-Amin’s favor. The state admitted no wrongdoing in the settlement but did agree to perform eight different acts to satisfy Al-Amin’s claims.
The case highlights a trend among state and federal prisoners, many of them converted Muslims, fighting for their rights to practice their faith.
In 1989, Al-Amin, then known as Donald Tracey Jones, was convicted in Norfolk Circuit Court of murder and use of a firearm, and sentenced to 52 years in prison. Police said the shooting was drug-related. Jones, a New York native, was in his early 20s at the time. He’s scheduled to be released in 2016.
Not long after entering prison, he changed his name to Rashid Qawi Al-Amin, which in Arabic means “wise, strong and trustworthy.” He says the prison system refused to acknowledge his new name.
Al-Amin became part of a swell of converts to Islam within America’s prisons. Some joined the Nation of Islam while others chose the Sunni or Shia sects. Al-Amin became a Sunni. Corrections officials sometimes refer to the religion as Prislam.
Through the years, Al-Amin has filed no fewer than 10 state and federal lawsuits challenging his conviction and sentence and fighting for his religious rights; he lost them all except this one. He was part of a lawsuit filed by Muslim inmates challenging the Department of Corrections’ grooming policy that prohibits beards. The inmates lost.
Thousands of state and federal prisoners file lawsuits each year, and most are thrown out as frivolous.
Al-Amin filed this religious rights suit in 2004. U.S. District Judge Raymond A. Jackson in Norfolk dismissed it in 2005 on procedural grounds, but the federal appeals court reinstated it. That process alone took three years.
In 2008, Jackson threw the case out again, citing a lack of merit, but the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sent it back to Jackson to hear arguments. The judge offered to appoint a lawyer for Al-Amin, but Al-Amin refused counsel.
Over the next two years, motions were filed back and forth, and another appeal ensued on a minor issue over who exactly should be sued. Late last year, Jackson finally set the case for trial. It was supposed to have begun May 10, but Jackson ordered both sides to try to settle the matter.
The day before trial, he dismissed the suit after receiving the settlement notice.
The settlement calls for the Department of Corrections to spend up to $2,500 on Islamic library materials for the Greensville Correctional Center, where Al-Amin is housed. The department will also hire a Muslim inmate to work in the library. And inmates at Greensville will be allowed to donate religious materials to the library, subject to security review.
Al-Amin was even allowed to submit his own list of Islamic reading materials, movies and CDs.
The department also agreed to allow Al-Amin to use his religious name and to allow inmates to assist in the preparation of religious meals. Finally, the department agreed to pay Al-Amin $2,000 to cover the costs he expended fighting the suit, mostly for filing fees and postage.
Rebecca Kim Glenberg, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia who has represented state prisoners in other legal actions, said it is rare for a prisoner to win a lawsuit or even receive a settlement from the state. She represented Al-Amin and other inmates in the failed suit over the department’s grooming policy.
Prisons must follow the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. Passed by Congress in 2000, it prohibits government from placing excessively restrictive burdens on inmates to practice their religion.
“Prisons may not substantially burden an inmate’s free exercise of religion unless the restriction is necessary to achieve a compelling government interest,” Glenberg said.
A compelling government interest, she said, is defined as the highest standard of justification that the government can be required to prove. Typically, that has to do with security or health and safety.
“Courts tend to be very deferential to the prison officials when they say they have a compelling government interest,” she said.
A number of religious organizations around the country have been trying to break the stereotypes and fears of Islam, particularly in prison settings – some officials in Washington and TV pundits have railed against the “radicalization” of prison Muslims.
Gary Friedman, communications director for the American Correctional Chaplains Association, called that notion “overblown” and said officials should be more worried about white supremacists in prison.
“It’s just been getting more attention because of the attitudes toward Muslims in this nation since 9/11,” he said.
Still, Friedman said he was surprised by the outcome of the Al-Amin case.
“That’s a terrible settlement. It sets a very bad precedent.”
While prisons should allow access to any mainstream religion, he said, officials need to be aware of the separation of church and state.
“Public funds should not be used to purchase sectarian materials,” he said.
Larry Traylor, director of communications for the Department of Corrections, declined to discuss the specifics of the Al-Amin case, but he supplied The Virginian-Pilot with the department’s rules concerning the practice of religion by inmates.
The department has a Faith Review Committee to review the validity of various religions that are recommended by the institutions to be recognized, he said.
The state Attorney General Office, which defended Greensville and its food service contractor in the case, declined to comment but did provide the newspaper with a copy of the settlement.
Tim McGlone, (757) 446-2343, email@example.com
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