Jamaica: Controversy over convict music

Jamaica Observer:-STATE Minister for national security, Senator Pearnel Charles Jnr, says he has asked a legal team and the Commissioner of Corrections Ina Hunter to provide a clear understanding of the interpretation of the laws and regulations governing the production of music in maximum security prisons.

“There are a number of questions that were asked in relation to the category of inmates, (such as) whether an inmate involved in an appeal… is able to be involved in the rehabilitation programme; you hear a lot of things in the public domain as to whether an appellant could record at the studio that is there, or whether an appellant would be excluded from using the studio under a rehabilitation programme,” Charles told the Jamaica Observer yesterday.

He noted that the main concern for the public now — sparked by strong opinions on the issue by spokesperson on youth and culture Lisa Hanna — is the allegations of illegal production of music by inmates held in these facilities.

Charles, in the meantime, said he is not in agreement with the recent suggestion by Hanna of the wholesale banning of the intellectual property of murder convicts. “It’s a very simplistic view to say you’re convicted, and you’re making this impact, so we are going to sensor your music. Remember, sometimes you may be the creator of the music and may have sold the rights to your music. That is why we have to have a clear and cogent discussion on several issues: banning somebody’s music because they are convicted, and banning music that arises from unauthorised recordings (which) wouldn’t be banning. That music is just illegal,” he said.

According to Charles, the aim of incarceration is to rehabilitate people and not to punish them. “People come into the institutions as punishment, not for punishment. Even within the context of hard labour, there are conditions that we have to abide by. The goal must be, where possible, to rehabilitate these persons,” he said.

He said a high-level security meeting was recently held with the Commissioner of Corrections and other stakeholders with a view to taking on board recommendations to fix the challenges and inefficiencies plaguing the system.

At the same time, he noted that the regulations to the Corrections Act will be reviewed because some infractions are not currently covered in the regulations.

“Let’s use Adidja Palmer (Vybz Kartel) for example, let us say hypothetically that he was recording [without permission] and he was to send out, by Whatsapp, music to a producer. You don’t have evidence to prove it but you believe that it is happening, what do you do with the music?” he questioned.

“I have asked the legal department and the commissioner and her team to think about these things,” he stated.

Legislative changes being looked at include expanding Section 2 of the Act to properly define a cellular phone as a potentially prohibited article, and increasing fines for offences. “Section 13 speaks to the fines that are relevant to an illegal act on the part of a correctional officer. The fine is a measly $500 [which is a] waste of time. There is no deterrent in that,” the state minister argued.

Meanwhile, he emphasised that the measures the Government announced on Tuesday to combat corruption and ensure accountability in the correctional system were already in motion, and is not a knee-jerk reaction to Hanna’s statements. “I have held regular meetings – this didn’t start because of Lisa Hanna’s discussion, but of course it’s heightened and it’s an opportunity for me to present it to the country when it will listen,” he said.

The security ministry announced Tuesday that it intends to carry out a security assessment of the country’s correctional system in a move to strengthen internal controls in all prisons, and tackle corruption and other criminal activities within correctional facilities.

It said, too, that there will be changes to legislation and procedures to ensure accountability and enforcement, and that x-ray scanning machines will be installed at the Tower Street and St Catherine Adult Correctional centres, and the Horizon Adult Remand centre.

The security ministry is also promising to use metal detectors and new entry management protocols, polygraph all inmates and rezone spaces in all prisons, as well as expand CCTV coverage across the system, and enhance the use of cellular jamming technology. It is also planning to clamp down on the smuggling of mobile phones and contraband into prisons.