- Associated Press - Thursday, August 13, 2015

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - Texas inmates can now grow their beards to a half-inch in length following January’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that determined they have the right to grow facial hair for religious reasons.

State prison officials previously banned the facial hair, as a security precaution, for inmates, The Dallas Morning News (http://bit.ly/1Nqh2OR ) reported. A change in Texas Department of Criminal Justice rules took effect this month, making Texas among more than 40 other states and the Federal Bureau of Prisons to allow the beards.

Department spokesman Jason Clark said anyone can seek permission to grow a beard for religious reasons, but permission will be denied to inmates who have escaped in the past or attempted to. Among prison officials’ concerns are that inmates could use the facial hair to disguise themselves and avoid being caught if they escaped.

The inmates also will have to shave each year for a photo to ensure that prison officials can identify anyone who might try to change his appearance for an escape.

Some inmates say the new policy satisfies their religious devotion, but the rule doesn’t settle one case over prison beards in Texas.

Beard length does matter for one Muslim inmate, who sued the state in 2009, seeking permission to grow a 4-inch beard and to wear a brimless cap. His lawsuit argues that his faith requires him to maintain a “fist-length” beard and to wear his white knit kufi cap not just in his cell, as allowed by the department, but throughout the prison.

Prison officials contend the beard and cap pose security risks, including hiding weapons or contraband.

“There’s absolutely a difference between a 4-inch beard … (and) a half-inch beard,” said Clark, the spokesman.

The case is pending before the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Texas attorney general’s office, representing the prison system, declined to comment on the case.

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Information from: The Dallas Morning News, http://www.dallasnews.com

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