Bill Clinton was president when a handful of Virginia prisoners entered segregation cells rather than cut their hair. The inmates, Rastafarians, complained that the Department of Corrections’ grooming policy of Dec. 15, 1999, violates their religion, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Followers of the Rastafari movement let their hair grow in dreadlocks and let their beards grow.
The policy requires that male inmates’ hair be cut above the shirt collar and around the ears for security and health reasons. This week marks a decade that at least eight of them have been confined alone in small cells for refusing to comply — allowed out for three showers and five hourlong recreation periods a week. One inmate wrote the newspaper that the long-term isolation “has created a deep rooted bitterness, frustration, and depression.” Eric Balaban of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project has never heard of anything like it in any other state. “That really is remarkable — based solely upon the continued violation of grooming policy — to put somebody in the hole for 10 years,” he said. “Why would you use up your valuable space in segregation for these guys?”