LEBANON, Pa. (WHTM) – An inmate awaiting trial in a shooting case wants a federal judge to release him from solitary confinement in Lebanon County. At issue are his dreadlocks.
Eric McGill Jr. has been in solitary confinement for more than a year because he refuses to cut his dreadlocks, which carry religious significance for him. The jail won’t comment, and we haven’t heard back from their lawyers, but they have argued that state law lets county jails set inmate hairstyles for security policies.
McGill faces dozens of charges including attempted homicide. His lawyer says he won’t cut his dreadlocks because of his Rastafarianism beliefs, a religion that originated in Jamaica.
“He’s been suffering from depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, which has been exacerbated by his time in solitary confinement, as well as anxiety attacks, and the jail is aware of this, because they’ve been providing or attempting to provide him with treatment for these conditions, but really what they need to do is release him from solitary confinement,” said Matthew Feldman, Staff Attorney for the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project, representing McGill.
McGill filed an amended complaint last week against the jail, asking to be released from solitary confinement.
“To the extent that there are any security concerns associated with dreadlocks, which I’m not convinced of, but even if there were, there are obviously far less intrusive ways of dealing with those concerns,” said Feldman.
A lawyer for Lebanon County has said inmate hairstyles must meet sanitation and security policies.
“In addition, Lebanon County Correctional Facility does allow long hair. If you have straight hair, you can have your hair long, as long as it’s tied back,” said Feldman.
Feldman says there’s no timeframe, but expects a preliminary ruling from a judge soon. The Lebanon County Correctional Facility will not comment. We also reached out to the jail’s lawyers, and haven’t heard back.