TCI inmate can grow dreadlocks, judge rules
By Justin Wier
A federal judge ruled when it comes to Deon Glenn, a Trumbull Correctional Institution inmate, state and local policies that forbid him from maintaining dreadlocks violate his religious liberties.
The decision issued by Judge Patricia A. Gaughan of U.S. District Court in Cleveland takes no position on whether the state’s dreadlock ban violates the rights of other inmates.
Glenn, 30, received a sentence of 35 years to life from Judge Lou A. D’Apolito of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court for the 2007 murder of Maressia Patterson. He will not be eligible for release until 2042.
Glenn became Rastafarian, which requires its adherents to let their hair grow naturally, in 2012, according to court documents.
The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections forbids dreadlocks, and a 2014 memorandum drafted by TCI officials specifies there are “no religious exemptions” to that policy.
At least 39 other jurisdictions, including the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, either allow dreadlocks or permit religious exemptions, according to court documents.
In Glenn’s case, he refused to cut his dreadlocks, which landed him in solitary confinement. He eventually acquiesced.
Other TCI inmates including Cecil Koger, who has a similar lawsuit before Judge Benita Y. Pearson in Youngstown’s U.S. District Court, have been subject to forced cutting.
Judge Gaughan ruled in Glenn’s case the state failed to offer persuasive reasons as to why it must take a different course than other jurisdictions.
She said the statue under which Glenn brought his claim did not permit her to grant relief to others not before the court.
Avidan Cover, a Case Western Reserve University law professor, filed the complaints on behalf of both Glenn and Koger with the help of student legal interns at Case Western’s Milton A. Kramer Law Clinic Center.
Cover said he was encouraged by the result, but he also expected a favorable decision because the argument put forth by the students was sound.
“When you have an absolute ban on a religious practice, it’s highly problematic under this law,” Cover said.
He said he believes the protections are important because in addition to protecting First Amendment rights, religion can have a redeeming effect on inmates.
“[But] it doesn’t mean we need to compromise prison security, and it certainly doesn’t mean we absolve individuals for misdeeds,” Cover said.
He said he hopes the policy changes, but if not, he’s willing to argue the decision before an appeals court.