- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 1, 2005

RICHMOND (AP) — State prison inmates who have been segregated for six years for violating grooming policies said they will continue to defy corrections officials.

“I’m a Rastafarian,” inmate Elton L. Williams wrote in a letter. “My dreadlocks and beard are fundamental tenets of my religion.”

The letter and others were sent in August to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. The inmates also wrote they will not comply with the Virginia Department of Corrections’ 1999 inmate grooming policy because of their faith.

The policy forbids beards and requires inmates to keep their hair trimmed neatly for security and health reasons.

In August, Rastafarian inmate Ivan Sparks, serving 51 years for murder, said he and nine other inmates have been held in segregation since the grooming policy was imposed.

The corrections department would not confirm the accusation, citing what it said was a policy against discussing inmate disciplinary histories. However, the department confirmed Sparks and the others are in segregation.

Inmate advocates said the punishments exceeded the offense.

Seven of the 10 inmates responded to letters written to them by the newspaper.

“While in segregation, sometimes it is as if time has ceased,” wrote Greensville Correctional Center inmate Allen McRae.

McRae is one of five Rastafarian and Muslim inmates represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, which is challenging the grooming policy, purporting it violates the religious rights of inmates under a federal law.

A spokesman for the corrections department said that, in general, inmates in segregation remain in their cells 24 hours a day and eat their meals in the cells. They are allowed three showers and three one-hour outside exercise periods a week.

Officials said the grooming policy, which bans beards and requires hair to be trimmed off the collar, was imposed so inmates cannot hide contraband in their hair or change their appearance with haircuts and shaves should they escape.

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