Virginia settlement will allow religiously mandated 1/4-inch beards in prisons

Howard Friedman, Religion Clause

AP reports that the Virginia Department of Corrections this week (Sept. 2012) entered a settlement agreement with Sunni Muslim inmate William Couch who sued seeking to wear a beard for religious reasons. (The case has been up to the 4th Circuit and is now on remand.)  Under the settlement, the prison system will change its rules so that all inmates who wish to grow a beard for religious reasons will be permitted to have facial hair up to 1/4 inch in length. However, the inmate will need to have a second identification photo taken– one showing him with a beard and one without. The inmate will be charged $2 for taking the photo, an amount that plaintiff’s attorney says is too high for inmates who earn only 35 cents per hour for prison work. The new policy requires facial hair, if worn, to cover the entire facial hair area and contain no shapes or designs– so goatees are prohibited. The prison barber shop will use a 1/4 trimmer on beards to assure compliance with length requirements.