LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The ACLU of Kentucky has reached a settlement in Thurman v Crews, our religious liberty suit filed in April of 2022, after Mr. Carlos Thurman submitted a grievance against a Department of Corrections (DOC) policy related to dreadlocks and other natural hair styles, indicating such hairstyles would be forcibly removed (cut) if they were not searchable.
Mr. Thurman filed the grievance on behalf of himself and other incarcerated individuals, arguing the policy was unconstitutional. Northpoint Training Center, where Mr. Thurman was housed at the time, then transferred him to another facility in retaliation. In the transfer process, prison officials forcibly cut his dreadlocks without first attempting to search them.
“Prison policies may not infringe on sincerely held religious beliefs unless it can be shown that it’s the least restrictive means possible,” said Heather Gatnarek, senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Kentucky. “We and our client are pleased with the details of the settlement, particularly the policy changes put in place because of our legal action. No one should be subject to the complete disregard of their freedom of religion.”
The new DOC policy provides more detail about the types of hairstyles allowed in detention facilities. It expressly creates the opportunity to claim a religious exemption to grooming standards and details the ways hair may be searched, up to and including the use of hand-held metal detectors and body scanners.
The new policy also explicitly limits when hair may be forcibly cut. The only acceptable circumstances are when an incarcerated person has refused to submit to a reasonable search of the hair, or if a medical provider has determined that a health condition exists that creates a safety or security risk.
The ACLU of Kentucky remains committed to protecting civil liberties for all Kentuckians. People who are incarcerated are entitled to the protections of the constitution.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Kentucky is freedom's watchdog, working daily in the courts, legislature, and communities to defend individual rights and personal freedoms. For additional information, visit our website at: www.aclu-ky.org.