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Chin Scratcher: Prison Beard Policy Will Cost Taxpayers $500,000

Thanks to a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, Texas prison inmates will be able to grow beards under a new policy expected to cost state taxpayers $500,000 a year in paperwork, beard nets and barber tools.

The William G. McConnell Prison Unit in Beeville, Texas.

Thanks to a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, Texas prison inmates will be able to grow beards under a new policy expected to cost state taxpayers $500,000 a year in paperwork, beard nets and barber tools.

On Aug. 1, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice tweaked its grooming policy to allow beards of up to one-half inch in length for "religious" purposes. But because inmates will not have to spell out what religious purpose is being served by facial hair, any inmate will be allowed to grow a beard as long as they fill out a form known as a I-60, said Jason Clark, the agency's spokesman. 

The 109-facility state prison system has long required its inmates — about 148,000 at the moment — to be clean-shaven as a security precaution. But after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in January that the Arkansas prison system's anti-beard policy violated a Muslim inmate's religious freedom, TDCJ re-evaluated its own policy, Clark said. 

"We had to change our grooming standards," he said. 

But that policy change will be costly. The prison system is hiring another 26 people to handle beard applications and process new and more frequent identification cards for inmates. Beard nets for those who work in the prison cafeterias are being ordered as well as beard clippers, new cameras and computers, Clark said. 

Inmates will file their I-60 request forms with their respective prison wardens asking for permission to grow the beard for unspecified "religious purposes." A month after inmates receive a warden's approval, they will have a new photo made to include their bearded look on an identification card. 

Then, once a year the inmates will be shaven by the prison staff and a new ID photo will be made so that the prison staff can have a shaved and bearded photo on file. After that annual shave, the inmate will be allowed to grow the beard out again and another beard photo will be taken so that the prison staff always knows what the inmate looks like.

Clark said inmates who have tried to escape from the prison will not be allowed to grow beards for any reason.

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