Amish imprisonment policy 'cruel'
A group of Amish men and women found guilty of hate crimes for cutting the hair and beards of fellow members of their faith are contesting the decision to send them to different prisons across the United States.
Lawyers claim their conviction, sentencing and imprisonment in separate facilities across the United States violates their constitutional rights and amounts to cruel and unusual punishment, according to recent court filings.
The filings in federal court in Akron, Ohio, seek the release of seven of 16 Amish convicted in September in the 2011 attacks which were intended to shame fellow Amish followers they believed were straying from strict religious interpretations.
Although six of the requests were denied by the trial judge, one is still pending, and the judge could at any time order any of them to be released as they await the outcome of their appeals, expected to be filed this summer.
The Amish group's leader, Samuel Mullet Sr, was sentenced to 15 years in prison, while the rest of the group got sentences ranging from one to seven years.
The Amish have been sent to different prisons across the country, placing an overly harsh burden on their families who, because of their religion, cannot travel by plane and have to hire drivers for car travel, the group's lawyers argue.
For instance, in order for Mullet's wife to visit him and three sons convicted in the case, she would have to travel to Oklahoma, Louisiana and two different prisons 160 miles apart in Minnesota.
The Amish "are being treated much more harshly than the typical federal prisoner, including those with much worse criminal histories and offence conduct", Mullet's lawyer, Edward Bryan, wrote in a March 29 filing.
"The manner in which their sentences are being carried out by the Bureau of Prisons is cruel and unusual."
Michael Tobin, a spokesman with the US Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Ohio, declined to make prosecutors in the case available for comment and declined to talk about the filings except to say: "We'll respond to them in our response filed with the court."