A federal judge has ruled that inmates have no First Amendment rights to grow a beard, rejecting the claim of an orthodox Jew who claimed prison policy banning facial hair longer than a quarter-inch violated his constitutional rights.
U.S. District Court Chief Judge Steven McAuliffe ruled against Albert Kuperman, saying prison officials’ concerns about hygiene and security trump inmates’ free expression and religious rights.
McAuliffe acknowledged that Kuperman’s religion “requires men to refrain from trimming their beards.” But, he ruled, prison officials have valid reasons for requiring that beards be kept to a maximum length of a quarter-inch.
“That length allows correctional officers to identify inmates easily, prevents inmates from hiding contraband and weapons in beards and minimizes the risk that an escaped inmate could quickly change his appearance after an escape,” McAuliffe wrote in his Aug. 27 ruling.
“A grooming policy that allowed full beards, on the other hand, would strain prison resources and/or relations between inmates and staff by requiring the issuance of multiple identification cards and by requiring more frequent inmate searches,” the judge said.
Kuperman also argued the prison policy violated his equal protection rights because inmates in high-security housing often have beards exceeding the quarter-inch length. The court dismissed this claim, noting that the high-security inmates are not allowed to have razors and are shaved by prison barbers every week or two, as prison resources permit.
Kuperman, 25, lost a court challenge last year over kosher diets. He claimed his constitutional rights were violated when he was removed from a kosher diet plan after twice being caught eating non-kosher foods. Corrections spokesman Jeff Lyons said prison policy has since been changed to permit an inmate three lapses before being threatened with removal from diets related to religion.
Kuperman is serving 31/2 to 7 years behind bars for sexually molesting a minor in 2002. He is eligible for parole in January.