Black man forced to cut locks in prison, sues facility 

According to a prison warden, Black hairstyles such as locks, braids and cornrows are not easily searchable.

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A Black Kentucky man has filed a discrimination lawsuit in federal court against a state prison, claiming his constitutional rights and religious freedoms were violated when the facility forcibly cut his locks in accordance with a new prison policy.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, Carlos Thurman, 50, is a practicing Rastafarian who was forced by officials at the Northpoint Training Center prison to cut off his locks – a hairstyle commonly worn by those practicing the religion as a symbol of devotion to their creator.

The ACLU of Kentucky says it filed a federal lawsuit on Thurman’s behalf on April 29, contending that the prison’s 2021 policy — which, per USA Today, demanded that inmates have “searchable hair” if they’re being transferred to another facility, placed in solitary confinement, or appearing in court — is unconstitutional.

Per the outlet, the memo, issued by Warden Brad Adams, included locks, braids and cornrows among the hairstyles deemed not easily searchable.

According to the ACLU of Kentucky, Thurman was transferred to another prison facility after filing a grievance against the rule. The state union claims Thurman’s hair was never searched, yet he was forced to cut off his locks during the process, additionally claiming that his cut hair was then returned to him in a bag. 

The ACLU of Kentucky claims that the memo is in violation of the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which protects religious congregations and those practicing religious faith from restrictions that unfairly hinder their ability to freely practice religion.

The lawsuit additionally alleged that the memo disobeys Kentucky’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act and Thurman’s right to file a grievance under the First Amendment, per the ACLU of Kentucky.

“Prison policies may not infringe on sincerely-held religious beliefs unless it can be shown that it’s the least restrictive means possible,” said ACLU of Kentucky Legal Director Corey Shapiro. “Mr. Thurman should never have been subjected to such retaliatory and degrading actions.”

In March, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the CROWN Act to provide federal protection against the racial discrimination of Black hairstyles like braids, cornrows and locks in federally assisted programs, housing programs, public accommodations and employment, as previously reported by theGrio.

One of the bill’s creators, Adjoa B. Asamoah, told theGrio’s April Ryan that “The CROWN Act amends the existing definition of race to include traits that are historically associated with it; such as hair texture and what we call protective styles, including but not limited to braids, locs, twists, Bantu knots, et cetera.”

Asamoah said that in absence of the law, “courts have interpreted race [that] has not included our hair because the thought is if we can alter our hair, then it’s something that is not inherently part of our racial identity.”

The act has failed to be passed in the U.S. Senate after being introduced in 2019 by California State Senator Holly Mitchell and subsequently passed in the U.S. House.

theGrio’s Gerren Keith Gaynor and April Ryan contributed to this report.

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