Criminal Jammage

Today – The role of music in prisoner rehabilitation.

Its No More Murder On The Dance-floor ( just Thriller)

If you are an avid online video clicker you may have seen on YouTube the dancing prisoners of the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center in the Philippines. Choreography on a massive scale in a prison yard. In a movement led by Security Consultant Byron Garcia to rehabilitate the prisoners through dance. The prisoners have so far danced to ‘Jump’, ‘In the Navy’ and SoulJa Boy’s ‘Crank That’ among others dressed in their prison issue bright orange jumpsuits. The most popular viewing online has been for their rendition of ‘Thriller’ by Michael Jackson.

prisoners dancing

prisoners dancing

The whole idea has caused controversy from officials and the public, with many feeling this is a progressive step while others see the problem as one of inhumane puppetry. Garcia sees his project as a hopeful one, a way to change the lives of the prisoners to make them happier, more connected and therefore less likely to re-offend. Commitment is apparently so deep felt, some prisoners even have tattoos of Garcia’s name, however Garcia is known to be an extremely dominating figure, happy to ‘coax’ prisoners into routines using any necessary disciplinary methods.

group dance routines

group dance routines

Many have seen the prison dances as very simply hilarious antics, but Dennis Abarientos, from the Filipino human rights group Karapatan, feels the truth is being masked behind the frivolity and positive media stereotyping of the Filipino people. He believes prisoners are being treated in-humanely and forced into the routines.  Abarientos filed several complaints against Garcia in 2007 in regards to treatment of prisoners.

Karapatan have not had an easy time recently; in August 2008 Abbarientos and other members of the Karapatan began recieving death threats in an attempt to dissuade them from the fact-finding missions they use to help stop human rights violations. The human rights group are currently still continuing with their hard work.

British prison rehabilitation has its roots in torture and execution. Until the late 18th century the body was the focus of attention and various torture methods were used to ‘rehabilitate’ the prisoner and make them pay their penance. After the Penitentiary Act in 1779 methods were introduced to incorporate a more cerebral approach to rehabilitation. Michael Foucault discusses this change in ‘Discipline and Punish‘ in relation to the French prison system. The prisoner moves from a psychical rehabilitation to a spiritual one while the shift in power over the prisoner’s treatment and length of stay is determined by ‘experts’.

So with the dance craze, are we now back to the psychical rehabilitation?  – Or is dancing good for the soul?

music used to aid recovery

music used to aid recovery

Dancing is said to improve mood and also be good form of exercise. Music Therapy is a developing part of the NHS in Britain. It is used to help people with a wide range of problems including learning disabilities, physical, emotional and psychological disorders and sensory impairments. Dr. Christian Gold, of the University of Bergen, is currently undergoing a long term pilot study into the effects of Music Therapy on Inmates attempting to establish the best ways to implement Musical Therapy and what opportunities for its use exist in a Norwegian prison. Bob Romanowski worked on a similar project in Lower Austria in 2007 with reasonably positive results.

It seems that the problem lies not with the idea of music and dance as a way to help prisoners avoid further crimes and help them to be part of the community as a useful and law-abiding citizen but, in the case of Garcia’s Rehabilitation Centre, about the way these projects are implemented. Are human rights being ignored for the cause of misguided attempt to stop prisoner rebellion and instead the desire to control every action of law-breakers has become a publicity stunt? If the punishment is to suit the crime its hard to see how all the prisoners fit into these routines given that their crimes range from murder to shoplifting. To call on an old psychiatry joke – ‘how many psychiatrists does it take to change a lightbulb?’ – ‘just one but the lightbulb has to really want to change.’

If prisoners are forced into dance skits, how much rehabilitation are they really benefiting from?


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