Rastafarian Sues Jail Over Pot and Dreadlocks

By Lisa M. Schaffer, Esq. on January 03, 2019 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A Rastafarian prisoner is trying to "Stir It Up" with the prison in which he is serving time for murder. James Rose is suing the South Carolina Department of Corrections for cutting off his dreadlocks and failing to provide him with pot, in violation of his First Amendment Rights to Freedom of Religion, under the the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.

Inmate Seeks $1 Million, Dreads, and Weed

Rose is serving a life sentence for the home invasion and execution-style murder of Leland Shannon, Jr. Rose aided, but did not pull the trigger, in this gruesome murder, which played out in front of Shannon's 12-year-old son. While serving out his sentence, in April 2017, Rose claims that he asked for marijuana and to grow his hair to unlimited length, as part of his Rasta practice. He was denied the weed, and was subsequently held down and had his head forcibly shaved. Rose is claiming psychological and physical trauma, and is seeking $1 million in punitive and actual damages. He also wants the weed and the dreads.

Money and Weed Are a Longshot, but Perhaps Rose Can Keep the Dreads

Rose will have an extremely difficult time winning the weed debate, as there is no such legal precedent. Had he been a practicing Rastafarian for years prior to committing murder, he may have some slim chance of an argument. But Rose sites no such evidence in his handwritten lawsuit.

As for the dreadlocks, Rose stands a much better chance of having them allowed. In fact, this same federal circuit faced a similar suit in 2009, and allowed a Rasta inmate to have dreadlocks, though disallowed the excessive force claim stemming from the shave-down. In that case, the prison's grooming policy was not the least restrictive it could be while still allowing for freedom of religion. However, that case was nearly a decade ago, and there, the prison's grooming policy did not address other concerns. Other states have mixed outcomes when it comes to allowing prisoners to wear dreads, mostly depending on the balance between prisoner's right and the health/safety/welfare of others. Since Rose is in a maximum security prison, and has had scuffles while incarcerated, he may face an uphill battle on this one.

If you feel your religious rights are being violated in prison, contact a local civil rights attorney to see if the situation can be improved.

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