CONCORD, N.H. — A federal judge has ruled that inmates have no First Amendment right 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 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 the Aug. 27 ruling, Kuperman v. Wrenn.
"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 wrote.
Kuperman also argued the prison policy violated his equal-protection rights because inmates in high-security housing often have beards ...