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Native American inmates win right to keep long hair in Texas prison

Three male Native American inmates in Texas are now allowed to grow their hair out in accordance with their spiritual beliefs after they successfully challenged the state prison system in a lawsuit.

The Houston Chronicle reports the three men, who have been imprisoned for an extended period of time, sued the Texas Department of Criminal Justice in federal court arguing restrictions on their hair growth violated their right to practice their religion.

"Religious liberty is a bedrock value," Rob Ellis, a lawyer who represented the inmates, told the Chronicle. "It's also a nonpartisan issue so it's especially important for minority groups like Native Americans whose views aren't as well known or accepted."

Attorneys for the state said allowing male prisoners to have long hair posed both a suicide and a security risk.

While the ruling in the three men's favor from U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos only applies to this case, the Chronicle notes it could have an impact on future cases involving Native American inmates in Texas.

More than 5,000 Native Americans are currently incarcerated in the Texas prison system, which allows women to keep their hair as long as they want.

Texas prison spokesman Jeremy Desel told the local news outlet the department was considering an appeal of the ruling.

"While we do not agree with the finding of this court, we fully respect the legal process," Desel said.

All three Native American plaintiffs in the case have been in prison for decades for crimes such as murder and sexual assault. None of them have had major disciplinary violations in recent years.

Lead plaintiff Robbie Dow Goodman said he wanted to grow his hair long to be more connected to his creator.

"It's just like the roots of a tree," Goodman said at trial. "It connects us."