A New Orleans-based appeals court says the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's restrictions on beard lengths and religious head garments for inmates violate federal law.
Muslim inmate David Rasheed Ali, 33, sued the correctional agency to be allowed to grow a "fist-length" beard and wear a knit skullcap in accordance with his beliefs. Prison rules don't allow for a fist-length, or four-inch long, beard and only permit religious headwear in inmates' cells or during religious services. Rasheed is serving multiple 20-year sentences in the Michael Unit in Tennessee Colony in East Texas for arson, aggravated robbery and criminal mischief in 2001.
In August, TDCJ dropped its clean-shaven grooming policy for inmates who wanted to grow beards for religious reasons. Inmates have been allowed to ask their wardens to grow beards no longer than a half-inch long.
TDCJ argued that its headwear and grooming policies prevent contraband from spreading and misidentifying inmates, and are cost-control measures. But Ali said the policy violates the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.
A trial court agreed with Ali, but TDCJ appealed the decision. In a Monday opinion, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals stood with the trial court and the inmate.
"We are reviewing the opinion and have no further comment at this time," TDCJ spokesman Jason Clark said in a statement.