VA Inmates In Segregation Six Years Over Grooming Rules


Virginia inmates who have been in segregation cells for nearly six years for refusing haircuts and shaves complain of mental and physical problems. Nevertheless, they tell the Richmond Times-Dispatch that they will not comply with the state corrections department’s 1999 inmate grooming policy because of their faith. “I’m a Rastafarian,” wrote inmate Elton Williams last month. “My dreadlocks and beard are fundamental tenets of my religion.” The policy forbids beards and requires inmates to keep their hair trimmed neatly for security and health reasons. Last month, a Rastafarian inmate identified 11 inmates he said have been held in segregation since the grooming policy was imposed. David Fathi of the American Civil Liberties Union National Prison Project said that six years “that strikes me as an extraordinarily long time for refusing to cut your hair.” Jenni Gainsborough of Penal Reform International said, “I can’t believe this is happening, particularly in Virginia, which makes such a big deal about religion and how important it is that people be able to express religious beliefs.”

The corrections department says it does not know how many inmates have been in segregation since 1999 for failing to comply with the policy. Fathi said that under the U.S. Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, upheld this year by the U.S. Supreme Court, the corrections department must prove that its grooming policy is the least restrictive means “of advancing a compelling government interest.” Officials said the male grooming policy, which does not permit beards and requires hair to be trimmed off the collar, was imposed so inmates could not hide contraband in their hair or change their appearance with haircuts and shaves should they escape. Gainsborough labeled prison security concerns as “ridiculous — because woman can actually keep their hair long as if somehow it was different for women, that they couldn’t do all those things.”


Comments are closed.