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SC Prisoners Protest Haircut Policy

In February, 1995, Michael Moore, a prison administrator from Texas, was appointed head of the South Carolina DOC. He promptly implemented the Aget tough on prisoners policies of recently elected Republican governor David Beasley. To date this has included cutting back on work release and furloughs and announcing a new policy which would require all prisoners to have short hair, be clean shaven and wear uniforms.

At 8:30 AM on April 17, 1995, a fight broke out in the cafeteria of the Broad River Correctional Institution in Columbia, SC, a medium-maximum security prison holding 1,000 prisoners. Sporadic fighting and fires broke out in various areas of the prison. During the uprising five guards were stabbed with four left in serious condition with stab wounds to the head, chest and back. During the cafeteria melee three prison employees were taken hostage and released eleven hours later after five prisoners were assured they would not be shot by prison guards and they were allowed to meet for five minutes with an Associated Press newsman and two photographers to complain about the haircut policy and other restrictive policies being implemented by Moore. The five prisoners who met with the media denied being involved in the stabbings.

Several of the prisoners stated they were Muslims or Rastafarians. A dreadlocked Willie Gary stated AWhat happened Tuesday, the new commissioner gave us an ultimatum. Anytime you come on a floor with no problems, a perfect floor with no problems... and make changes, you're going to get static. He stated prison officials should have expected this response to the new haircut policy AIt is inhumane to deface a person. The other prisoners involved in the stand off with Gary were identified as: Theodore Harrison, Kevin Smith, Roderick Folks and Sheldon Crawford.

During the uprising prisoners at Broad River were locked in their cells. To keep the rebellion from spreading through the South Carolina prison system, DOC officials locked prisoners in their cells in the state's eight other medium-maximum prisons. Moore had no comments on the uprising.

In a statement that echoes Attica, Lucasville and other prison rebellions where prisoners have been pushed to rebellion, Harrison said AIt comes down to the point where your soul is being taken, your dignity is being taken away, you've got nothing left. As Janis Joplin used to say, freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.

The SC ACLU has stated that the haircut policy may well be illegal [See PLN, June, 1995, MO Haircut Policy Illegal where Missouri's haircut and Agrooming policy was found unconstitutional.] and has joined a court challenge of the haircut rule. Paula Brown, a prisoner's wife commented ACutting their hair off and making them wear their [the prison's] clothes is not going to change anything. Why don't they just leave them alone? Why not indeed.

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