Tough cell phone law for prisons - Inmates could get up to 15 additional years for possession of electronic devices

December 08, 2021

Prisoners who are found in possession of cellular phones could face additional prison time of 15 years, should a bill that is now before Parliament becomes law.

National Security Minister Dr Horace Chang, in opening the debate on the Corrections (Amendment) Act (2021), said that prisoners have been using cell phones to direct mayhem in the society. He said that many leaders of criminal organisations use cell phones to give instructions to persons on the outside to carry out criminal activities.

"Through the use of cellular phones and electronic communication devices, incarcerated violence producers are better able to directly or indirectly influence criminal gangs and drug activities. Some of these violence producers are leaders of top tier members of gangs who give orders and perpetuate gang feuds and contract killings and on occasions may pervert the course of justice as witnesses are threatened, injured or murdered," Chang said.

According to the minister, 5,431 cell phones were seized in the country's prisons between 2016-2017 and 2019-2020. Earlier this year, Matthew Samuda, minister without portfolio in the ministry of national security, said that 2,300 cell phones were seized in correctional centres last year.

Chang said that given the severity of offences, and the current exacerbation of criminal activities facilitated by the use of computer and electronic communication devices such as cell phones, there is the need for "severe penalties".

"Anyone inside a correctional institution who knows that they will spend another 20 years will have second thoughts about using a cell phone inside the facility," Chang said.

Persons convicted in the parish courts may be fined up to $3 million or be imprisoned for three years, while a second or subsequent offence will attract a fine of $5 million or up to five years' imprisonment.

If the conviction takes place in the circuit court, the term of imprisonment is a maximum seven years for a first offence, and 15 years for a second or subsequent offence.

Attorney general Marlene Malahoo Forte said that there is an abundance of evidence that prisoners have been using cell phones to communicate with people on the outside and "are the masterminds behind a lot of criminal activities".

"If you use the cell phone or any other form of electronic device and you send instructions out a road and cause things to happen, you are going to be punished. And when you are found guilty, the prison time is going to start to run after yuh finish the existing prison time," she said.

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