A practicing Rastafarian inmate has filed a discrimination lawsuit against a Kentucky prison alleging guards forcibly cut his dreadlocks in order for him to have “searchable hair.”
In the federal lawsuit that was filed against the Northpoint Training Center on behalf of Carlos Thurman, the ACLU of Kentucky alleges the 50-year-old inmate’s dreadlocks were cut last April, Business Insider reported.
The Rastafarian inmate is said to have initially complained about the prison’s policy on “searchable hair.” The prison in February sent out a memo instructing that all arriving and exiting inmates “must have searchable hair, regardless of length,” the lawsuit states.
“Braids, corn rolls[sic], dreadlocks, etc. are not permitted if they are not searchable,” Northpoint Training Warden Brad Adam stated in the memo, per the complaint. The memo also stated that inmates would be given a “reasonable” time period or 30 minutes to cut their hair. An inmate’s refusal to do so will result in a “cell entry team” using “force” to cut their hair, the memo added.
“If a white inmate with long hair down his back gets into a fight with a Black inmate with dreads, cornrows or braids, the white inmate will be allowed to keep his hair, [but] the Black inmate will have to get his hair cut. Where is the fairness?” Thurman also stated in his 2021 complaint, per USA TODAY.
The lawsuit also says that in an unexpected transfer on April 30, 2021, Thurman was “awoken and told to pack his things because he was being transferred to another facility. This was the first he knew of the transfer.”
While being processed for the transfer, the guards notified Thurman that his dreadlocks had to be cut before the transfer, the lawsuit claims, per Business Insider.
“Prison officials did not attempt to search his hair before ordering that it be cut,” the lawsuit alleges, adding that Thurman initially refused to have his dreadlocks removed. However, the plaintiff ultimately decided not to resist the “forcible cutting” of his dreadlocks as he feared “further harassment or even physical retaliation,” per the complaint. But he asked prison officials to record the procedure.
“In forcibly cutting his dreadlocked hair without attempting to utilize any of the available less restrictive means to satisfy the prison’s security interest, prison officials violated Mr. Thurman’s rights under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Person Act,” the lawsuit states.
The ACLU of Kentucky labeled the prison’s actions as a breach of Thurman’s “religious liberty and expression.”
“Prison policies may not infringe on sincerely-held religious beliefs unless it can be shown that it’s the least restrictive means possible,” the legal director for the ACLU of Kentucky, Corey Shapiro, said in May.