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Folsom New Year's Riot Over Haircut Policy

by W. Wisely

Over 1,000 prisoners at California's medium security Folsom prison threw flaming toilet paper and sheets over the tiers, banged cell doors, and refused to eat on New Year's Day in protest over new grooming restrictions the Department of Corrections plans to implement.

According to a Mexican-American man just released from the prison who was interviewed by the Sacramento Bee , only white prisoners participated in the protest. "They started to chant, 'No haircuts,'" said the man who refused to give his name. Prisoners at Folsom were told in September that the new grooming rules would take effect in February, prison spokesman Lt. Scott Moeszinger said.

"Massive and sudden changes can bring massive resistance," said Lance Corcoran, vice president of the prison guards' union. "I worked in the joints for 10 years and I've seen how things go. Once, inmates held a huge sit-down strike because they thought we'd been serving them pancakes too many days in a row."

At San Quentin prison, the men were concerned with slightly more weighty matters than breakfast. "We do have a little bit of life here, debased as it is, but there's stuff to do," said one clean-cut lifer. "[The planned grooming restrictions are] just too much."

So far, no lawsuits have been filed about the restrictions, though many prisoners have already refused to cut their hair. Millard Murphy, an attorney with the nonprofit Prison Law Project, predicts suits will be filed by Native Americans, Orthodox Jews, and Rastafarians, all of whom wear long hair for reasons of faith.

The state does not plan to accommodate the religious beliefs of prisoners however. "Someone who is in prison has already violated the tenets of their religion," argued spokesperson Christine May.

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