CONCORD, N.H.: Court says inmates not entitled to grow beards

A federal judge has ruled that inmates have no First Amendment rights to grow a beard, rejecting the claim of an orthodox Jew who said a prison limit on facial hair violated his constitutional rights.

U.S. District Court Chief Judge Steven McAuliffe ruled in the suit brought by Albert Kuperman that prison officials’ concerns about hygiene and security trump inmates’ free expression and religious rights.

McAuliffe acknowledged that Kuperman’s religion “requires men to refrain from trimming their beards.” But, he ruled, prison officials have valid reasons for requiring that beards be kept to a maximum length of a quarter-inch.

“That length allows correctional officers to identify inmates easily, prevents inmates from hiding contraband and weapons in beards and minimizes the risk that an escaped inmate could quickly change his appearance after an escape,” McAuliffe wrote in his ruling last month.

Kuperman, 25, is serving 31/2 to 7 years behind bars for sexually molesting a minor in 2002. He is eligible for parole in January.

He lost a court challenge last year over kosher diets. He claimed his constitutional rights were violated when he was removed from a kosher diet plan after twice being caught eating nonkosher foods.

Corrections spokesman Jim Lyons said prison policy has since been changed to permit an inmate three lapses before withholding a religious diet.