Taxpayers will not have to bear the costs of a new beard policy for inmates after all.
Last week, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice said it was discarding its "clean-shaven" grooming rule for inmates who wanted to grow beards for religious reasons. Beginning Aug. 1, inmates can file a request to their respective wardens to grow beards of no longer than a half-inch in length.
If granted, they will have to have new and more frequent identification photos taken. The cost of needed paperwork and the manpower to process it all was estimated by the department to be $500,000.
But a Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman said Tuesday that the agency has reconsidered the cost of the new policy.
"No taxpayer dollars are being used as a result of the new grooming policy," said Jason Clark, the spokesman.
The change follows a complaint by state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee.
"I was rather shocked and could not believe the cost," Whitmire said Tuesday.
If there are any new costs, Whitmire said, they will be paid for out of the inmate's commissary account. No new employees will be hired to process the paperwork or the identification photos.
And there will be no need, Whitmire said, for the prison agency to buy "beard-nets" for inmates who work in the kitchen, as the department had previously said was necessary.
It's simple, he said. "You just don't work in the cafeteria."
The 109-facility Texas 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, the Texas department re-evaluated its own policy.