Bearding the Warden

As Yet Unapproved Prison Grooming

As Yet Unapproved Prison Grooming


I’m just a plainspoken Colorado criminal defense lawyer, but the way I see it…

What are you hiding in your beard?

A unanimous United States Supreme Court decided yesterday that the answer to that question, most likely, is: nothing.

A devout Muslim who happens currently to be living in an Arkansas state prison now is able to grow his beard to the full half-inch length he asked the warden to allow him to satisfy religious stricture. That’s twice the hirsute limit previously permitted some inmates but still, the Justices said, unlikely to hide any hacksaw or shovel the prisoner might use to effect an escape. The Justices seemed unconcerned about errant rice grains that might remain after a hearty prison meal.

Inmate Abdul Maalik Muhammad, whose momma calls him Greg, is serving a life sentence for burglary and domestic battery, which Arkansas obviously takes seriously. The Supreme Court took much less seriously the warden’s claim that half an inch of beard might conceal all sorts of goodies, like razor blades, drugs, and such prison arts and crafts projects as homemade darts. The warden also claimed that it would be much harder to monitor the length of a half-inch beard than the quarter-inch beard he allows for prisoners with skin problems. Evidently Arkansas guards are equipped with only the tiniest of rulers.

Arkansas is much stingier with its beards than either the federal government or forty-four others of the United States, where a half-inch growth is considered a trifle, barely manly.

Justice Alito, who wrote the majority opinion, said “An item of contraband would have to be very small indeed to be concealed by a 1⁄2-inch beard, and a prisoner seeking to hide an item in such a short beard would have to find a way to prevent the item from falling out. Since the Department does not demand that inmates have shaved heads or short crew cuts, it is hard to see why an inmate would seek to hide contraband in a 1⁄2-inch beard rather than in the longer hair on his head.”

From the Islamic perspective — and this is taken from a website page at titled “The Islamic Perspective of the Beard” — the beard is considered by Allah a thing of adornment and beauty.

Allah obviously has never seen me in a beard.


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