Rastafarian and Muslim inmates from the District of Columbia who were housed at Virginia correctional facilities filed a class action lawsuit challenging Virginia Department of Corrections' policies prohibiting long hair or beards on inmates. The inmates were represented by Hogan and Hartson and the American Civil Liberties Union. The inmates, who sued the District of Columbia, the U.S. Attorney General, and the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), alleged that the BOP's decision to house them at Virginia facilities rather than federal facilities violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and their Free Exercise of Religion because Virginia's grooming policy infringed on their religious beliefs forbidding them from cutting their hair and shaving their beards.This case was filed on September 7, 2001, but is a continuation of litigation brought against the District of Columbia in 1999, in which the BOP intervened as a defendant. The court resolved the earlier case by entering a judgment in favor of the defendants, finding that the inmates had failed to exhaust their administrative remedies as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act. Jackson v. District of Columbia, 89 F.Supp.2d 48 (D.D.C. 2000). The court also rejected the plaintiffs' claims that the grooming policy violated RFRA or the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. On appeal, the DC Circuit affirmed the judgment, agreeing that the inmates had not exhausted their administrative appeals, but vacated the portion regarding the merits of the religious claims. Jackson v. District of Columbia, 254 F.3d 262 (D.C. Cir. 2001). The inmates exhausted their administrative remedies and refiled the case in 2001.
Following a three-day bench trial, the District Court (Judge Henry H. Kennedy, Jr.) held that the inmates' sincerely held religious beliefs were burdened by the policy, that the BOP's decision to house inmates at Virginia facilities was subject to review under RFRA, and that the BOP failed to show that housing inmates at Virginia facilities was narrowly tailored to meet a compelling state interest. Gartrell v. Ashcroft, 191 F.Supp.2d 23 (D.D.C. 2002)
On February 19, 2002, Judge Kennedy issued an order granting injunctive relief to the inmates and ordering the BOP to consider each inmates' religious beliefs and practices before designating them to a Virginia prison. If an inmate's religious belief would be burdened due to their policies, that should mitigate against housing the inmate there. The court also ordered the BOP to evaluate whether the Virginia grooming policy burdened its existing inmates housed in Virginia facilities, and transfer inmates whose beliefs were so affected. The order also gave the court ongoing jurisdiction to monitor the case and ensure that the terms of the injunction were followed. The BOP appealed.
In 2003, the parties entered into a settlement on attorneys fees, which acknowledged that the BOP had been in compliance with the court's order. The BOP agreed to dismiss its appeal as part of this agreement. This agreement was approved by Judge Kennedy on February 27, 2003. On April 11, 2003, the court issued an order dismissing the case. Denise Lieberman - 10/23/2005