When you go to prison, everything is taken away from you. From your personal property to your clothes, it’s all boxed up and stored, and you emerge from intake wearing state clothes and carrying a bag filled with a pillow, blanket, towel, and a few basic toiletries.
There is no tolerance for personal style behind bars. Even if you have an amazing haircut and color, that quickly fades because of the lack of hair products and accessories. In the prison I was in, you couldn’t even buy a proper hairbrush!
So, when you have a unique hairstyleㄧlike dreadlocksㄧwhat are the rules in prison? In this blog post I will attempt to answer the question: can you have dreads in prison?
I will also cover:
Proper hygiene is a must in prison. It is actually listed in the inmate rules, and if you avoid showers and taking care of yourself, you will be punished. You will also face the wrath of other inmates. When it comes to your hair, you are supposed to shampoo it regularly and keep it clean and combed.
Prisonsㄧno matter if they are male or femaleㄧdon’t usually have specific rules on the length of inmate hair, you are just supposed to keep yourself properly groomed. But, that has started to change in recent years because of the contraband problem. Some inmates hide contraband in their long hair, so there are prisons that have started enforcing rules about hair length to combat this.
Yes, the majority of prisons allow you to have long hair, and they also allow you to have dreadlocks, but there are exceptions depending on the state. However, if an officer or administrator doesn’t like your dreads for whatever reason, or if you have lice, they can force you to cut your hair. After all, what are you going to do to stop them? There is nothing you can do. They will literally tie you down and cut your hair off, and there is no legal recourse for the inmateㄧunless their dreads are part of their religion.
Cecil Koger, an inmate at Trumbull Correctional Institution in Leavittsburg, Ohio filed a lawsuit claiming officials have repeatedly cut his dreadlocks, which violated his civil rights and interfered with his religious beliefs.
Legally, a prison can’t interfere with an inmate’s religious beliefs and practices. So, if an inmate is Rastafarian, they have the right to wear dreadlocks, and it shouldn’t be interfered with.
Here’s the thing…there are, “official policies,” and then there is reality. In my experience, most officers and prison officials don’t seem to see inmates as people, which means they don’t treat them as human beings. This leads to guards and administrators doing anything they want to an inmate without consequence. If they can lock a person in solitary for years at a time as punishment, what’s to keep them from cutting off someone’s hair if they don’t like it?
When it comes to dreads in jail, the rules are all over the place. Every city, county, and sheriff operates their jail differently, so there are no set rules when it comes to inmate hair, or more specifically, dreadlocks.
Like prisons, most jails require you to keep yourself groomed. But, it can be extremely difficult to do this in the county jail. They do not provide you with enough hygiene products to keep yourself clean. So, if you don’t have someone sending you money, you can get nasty real quick.
Some sheriffs have also been known to cut off dreadlocks, like the officials at Trumbull CI. An inmate at Portsmouth City Jail in Virginia was forcibly strapped into a chair by the jail’s emergency response team, who were wearing masks and carrying electric shock shields and guns.
These people chopped off inmate Bernard Garris’ dreadlocks in just minutes, after it took him 13 years to grow them out. Garrisㄧwho is Rastafarianㄧhad been in jail for 13 months because of a probation violation.
“When you come in here, you have two choices: You can cut your hair, or we’ll cut it for you,” said Portsmouth Sheriff Bill Watson. “You have to understand. This is the Portsmouth City Jail, not the Hotel Hilton. You’re not going to be a street thug in our jail.”
With that snide remark, it seems to me that Sheriff Watson couldn’t care less about the people in his jail, and he instead wants to wield his power. Watson claims he instituted a “no long hair” policy because of problems with contraband, and an inmate’s religion was irrelevant. Unfortunately, many sheriffs and prison officials around the country share his viewpoint.
Everything is taken from you when you are in prison – even your dignity.
Do you think inmates should be allowed to wear whatever hairstyle they choose? Let us know in the comments below.
Sources: Inmate sues prison for repeatedly cutting his dreadlocks, claims civil rights were violated https://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/inmate-sues-prison-cutting-dreadlocks-article-1.3648436 https://pilotonline.com/news/article_908400d5-f696-53c1-ac5e-8d96831fddab.html
Natalie earned her Bachelors degree in Journalism from the University of Kansas, and has worked in television and radio during her career. When she was a 19-year-old sophomore at KU, she got her first on-air job as a sports reporter for a CBS-TV affiliate. In 2013, she was sentenced to 30 years in prison for the possession and production of marijuana. She was released in 2017. We've kept her last name off of our website so that she does not experience any professional hardship for her contributions.
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