Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Virginia State News

September 14, 2012

Settlement will allow Va inmates to grow beards

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia inmates will soon get to wear beards.

The state Department of Corrections settled a lawsuit earlier this week with inmate William Couch, a Sunni Muslim who says his religion requires him to maintain a beard. The state will amend its grooming policy to allow male prisoners to sport up to ¼-inch beards beginning in October.

Virginia has maintained that long hair and beards are threats to security and health and were therefore banned.

Several Rastafarian and other inmates unsuccessfully challenged the policy and were held in segregation for more than a decade for refusing to cut their hair for religion reasons.

A federal appeals court revived Couch's lawsuit in May, saying federal law protecting prisoners' religious rights requires the government to use "the least restrictive means" to guarantee security.

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