TUCSON, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) - The ACLU and the Sikh Coalition filed a complaint with the Department of Justice against the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry after a Sikh prisoner's beard was forcibly shaved as he was going through the prison intake process.
According to the Sikh Coalition, 64-year-old Surjit Singh is serving a five-year prison term after he pled guilty to reckless manslaughter chargers in the wake of a deadly car accident.
The Sikh Coalition says that in August of 2020, Singh's turban was confiscated and Singh was handcuffed while prison officials shaved his beard against his will before they took his booking photo. As an observant Sikh, Singh had never cut his facial hair before going to prison.
The complaint to the Department of Justice alleges that "prison staff tried to shave Mr. Singh’s facial hair a second time because it had grown out beyond the one inch allowed by the ADCRR policy" and that prison staff violated Singh's constitutional rights.
The complaint also claims that prison staff did not provide ample interpreter services for Singh who grew up in India and speaks Punjabi.
"This was incredibly humiliating and demoralizing to Mr. Singh. It made him feel as if part of his faith and part of his identity had been taken from him."
“My faith remains deeply important to me, and incarcerated individuals have a right to our faith just like everyone else in this country,” said Mr. Singh, through a statement to his lawyers. “I am simply asking that the Arizona Department of Corrections guarantee that me and others in my position are able to serve our sentences with dignity by respecting our religious beliefs.”
Singh was able to get a religious accommodation through his lawyers after his beard had already been shaved, but according to the complaint, the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry still hasn't changed its policies to allow prisoners to gain a religious accommodation at intake.
Judy Keane, an ADCRR spokeswoman issued the following statement in response:
"The Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry addressed and resolved these issues over six months ago. In November 2020, the Department sent two sincere letters of apology to the Legal Director of the Sikh Coalition in New York, expressing regret for Inmate Singh’s unpleasant experience upon admission to the Phoenix Prison, which arose from an innocent, but unfortunate, miscommunication between a chaplain and security staff. There was no ill will, merely a miscommunication, for which the Department apologized in writing, twice. Inmate Singh was subsequently transferred to the Douglas Prison, where he now enjoys the unrestricted religious freedom to grow his hair and beard and wear a turban throughout the remainder of his five-year incarceration for manslaughter."