Native American Inmates Lose Fight For Long Hair In Prison


Associated Press

An appeals court has ruled against Native American inmates in Alabama fighting for the right to wear long hair in accordance with their religious beliefs.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals court this week upheld an Alabama prison policy requiring male inmates to keep their hair cut short. The federal judges ruled that the Alabama Department of Corrections had security and hygiene reasons for the policy. Judges said the court could not force Alabama to accept inmates with long hair even though prisons across the country had done so safely.

Inmates had told the court that their long hair has deep religious significance, and they wanted to keep their hair unshorn because of their beliefs.

“Their sacred and ancestral core religious traditions are at stake,” said the inmates’ attorney, Mark Sabel of Montgomery.

The prison department did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment on the decision. The department had argued that long hair was a hygiene risk and could be used to conceal weapons and contraband.

The long-running lawsuit was first filed in the 1990s and has been before the 11th Circuit three times.

The U. S. Supreme Court in February kicked the case back for review after ruling the previous month that Arkansas had violated the religious rights of Muslim inmates by forbidding them to grow beards.

Sabel said he thought the 11th Circuit decision was in conflict with the Arkansas case.

Most states and the Federal Bureau of Prisons allow long hair or a religious exemption on grooming policies, said Joel West Williams, staff attorney with the Native American Rights Fund.

“The evidence is that 39 jurisdictions allow long hair and do so safely,” Williams said.

The appeals court said many well-run prisons see the benefit of allowing inmates to follow the grooming practices of their religion but that Alabama had to decide for itself if it was worth the risks.

The department of corrections “may, of course, decide in the future that these costs and risks might be worth absorbing, especially in view of the high value that long hair holds for many religious inmates,” the judges wrote.

Sabel said he is considering his next step, which could include asking for a hearing by all 11th Circuit judges or another appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

By Kim Chandler, The Associated Press, Posted: Aug 6, 2015


6 thoughts on “Native American Inmates Lose Fight For Long Hair In Prison

  1. That sit it’s crazy n fuckedup!!! So what going to happen or how can we help from inside and out?? Cause honestly theres very few tradional rights that could fly in prison as it is, as a formal inmate my damnself I was able to cut my hair and send it home to honor my baby sister with help from the prison Chaplin’s who try and accoomidate our religious preffrence according to the the Federal laws from the out side and prison rules and regulations in order from them go this far it’s if they have misused that in any wrong same as Talking Circles, Pipe Ceremonies, or Smudging and even as female inmates we face conflict with BOP Wardens in Dublin,California for none native sharing Native American Circles time to smudge or take part in drumming and allowing non natuves partake in cerimonies we hold unity to keep it within our good medicines our Grandfather’s have blessed us with some who don’t know or take part in our circles come to divide that for us its the same everywhere the north dont take up with the south but in a social type and adapt to those around me and take in the new and some what curious if others religious and traditions in all love and respect so how can we help our natives behind walls because regarless of anyones crime they still hold bloodline to somebody in the world and all yhose that dont got contact to any relatives that yard is their land their world and find famliy within those walls and that goes for any religion any race the Feds dont disciminate so why should one racial state hold back us Natives from our constitutional rights


  2. I think its wrong to be made to cut as religion is taken so seriously in Alabama.. Well if you are christian.. But when you go to jail or prison you do loose some rights.. So not sure of the correct t answer on this I guess..


  3. If he was transgender they would respect his “rights” to wear his hair that way. If he was Muslim they would. As usual, natives are the least acknowledged and respected people on our own land. Also, women can have long hair so their “hygiene” and “security” BS isn’t flying. They need to keep this going because this is denial of equal protection under the law.


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