Washington DSHS Issues Directive re: Indian Religious Rights of Incarcerated Native Youth

Jan 2nd, 2019

We with Huy have worked with the ACLU of Washington, Galanda Broadman, and the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) to help the agency develop policy to enhance opportunities and protections for incarcerated Native youth who seek religious activity in order to to “find meaning, comfort, hope, goodness and connections to family and community.”

In November 2018, DSHS issued an Interim Directive with the following language:

Youth explicitly have a constitutionally protected right to believe, express, and exercise the religion of their choice while incarcerated. The U.S. Constitution First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) establish these rights.

Many people find meaning, comfort, hope, goodness and connections to family and community through their religious practice, beliefs and/or community of faith. For youth in our care, we must promote this ability to access religious services without limiting them by levels or behavior unless they pose an imminent safety or security concern. Participation in religious activities is more likely to promote better behavior than it is to perpetuate negative ones. Each youth is an individual who needs us to meet them where they are at – including with their spiritual needs.

For Native American youth, religious exercise includes access to sweat lodge, regular smudging, and personal religious items and participation in powwow. With this in mind, JR will ensure that all of our three institutions have and maintain a sweat lodge in concert with local Tribal consultants and provide sweats twice a month.

DSHS also issued a Dear Tribal Leaders Letter, requesting tribal consultation in 2019 in order to develop a final agency policy regarding this “matter of great importance.”

Both documents contain beautiful language in honor and protection of American Indian religious freedoms–language that we hope will help our young relatives find and stay on the Good Red Road.