A Black man imprisoned at the Kentucky Northpoint Training Center is suing the facility after being forced to cut his dreadlocks, per USA TODAY. According to a memo from Warden Brad Adams, inmates were required to have “searchable hair” when traveling in or out of the facility. In addition to with dreadlocks, braids and “corn rolls” (as the memo spelled it), were also prohibited.
The ACLU of Kentucky filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Carlos Thurman, 50, who is a practicing Rastafarian. Per the ACLU’s report, Thurman’s hair was a part of practicing his religious beliefs. However, the new prison policy adopted in 2021 completely disregarded this. The report says Thurman filed a grievance against the policy but in retaliation, he was transferred to another facility. During the transfer, his hair was forcibly cut.
Here’s the kicker: at no point during the transfer process was Thurman’s hair searched. They even put the cut locs in a bag to go with him which also weren’t searched.
More on Thurman’s suit from the ACLU:
On February 23, 2021, then-Warden of Northpoint Training Center, Brad Adams, issued a memorandum to “All Concerned” with the subject “Searchable Hair.” The memo read:
Effective immediately, Inmates entering/exiting the Institution and/or assigned to Restrictive Housing Unit (RHU) must have searchable hair, regardless of length. Braids, corn rolls[sic], dreadlocks, etc. are not permitted if they are not searchable. Inmates shall be given the option to remove the braids, corn rolls[sic], dreadlocks, etc. for a reasonable amount time to do so (30 minutes).
Defendant Adams’ “Searchable Hair” Policy was issued the same day he received an email from the DOC Ombudsman interpreting litigation challenging Ohio’s searchable hair policy that was then before the Sixth Circuit.
The DOC Ombudsman’s guidance lacked detail and specificity, and neglected to provide guidance to prison administrators concerning how and under what circumstances they were to search an incarcerated person’s hair, rather than forcibly cut it. This lack of guidance and detail led directly to the forcible cutting of Mr. Thurman’s hair, without any prison officials making any attempt to search his hair and without consideration for any sincerely held religious belief.
According the suit, Thurman claims the Kentucky Department of Corrections violated the Kentucky Religious Freedom Restoration Act and his First Amendment Rights. He demands the department policy on “searchable hair” be declared unconstitutional as well as monetary damages for the harm caused to him.
“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 wrote in his 2021 grievance obtained by USA TODAY.
Unfortunately, the CROWN Act is still being contested in institutions outside of the workplace and classrooms.