Federal Court: Rastafarian Inmate Allowed to Wear Dreadlocks

Prison bars [Shutterstock/txking]

A federal court ruling will allow Deon Glenn, an inmate at Trumbull Correctional Institution, to continue wearing dreadlocks as required by his religion.

As a practicing Rastafarian, Deon Glenn is required to let his hair grow and lock naturally, creating dreadlocks.  Ohio prison policy prohibits that hairstyle, and any religious exemptions for dreadlocks.

Glenn sued under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, and this week, he won his case.

Avidan Cover is Glenn’s lead attorney.  He calls the ruling a statement that shows all religions should be taken seriously and respected. 

“There are a host of accommodations set forward in Ohio policies for a number of religions,” said Cover. “It’s a lot less clear for a faith such as Rastafarianism. It’s not as well known, most adherents are a minority race.”

Cover says that while the ruling only applies to Glenn’s religious freedom, it might be helpful to other inmates in similar situations.

“I think the court opinion gives a good road map for state officials to change their policy without by the way compromising prison security,” said Cover.

The Ohio Department of Correction had argued that dreadlocks cannot be thoroughly searched without posing a risk to prison staff. In her written opinion, the judge noted the vast majority of other state prisons “manage the risk associated with dreadlocks short of a complete ban”.

Cover is representing a Youngstown inmate in a similar case still in court.

The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction declined to comment.

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