Buju is facing a minimum of 15 years in prison after being found guilty on three drug and gun charges on Tuesday and is to be sentenced within the next three to six months.
His lawyers have indicated an intention to appeal but if that fails, the singer could find himself in prison for a long time, and that is where the locks, which are part of his religious belief, might be cut off.
United States-based Jamaican law Professor David Rowe yesterday mentioned several cases involving the wearing of dreadlocks in federal prisons.
Rowe noted that the federal circuit courts are split as to whether Rastafarians in custody should submit to prison-grooming regulations.
In two cases (Gartrell v Ashcroft and Hines v South Carolina), the courts upheld federal prison-grooming policies which are to cut excessively long beards and hair.
However, in another case (Benjamin v Coughlin), a Rastafarian was not required to cut his dreadlocks for a prison photograph.
A circuit court has also suggested that the federal government’s prohibition of a dreadlocks hairstyle should be upheld for security reasons if necessary.
“The most significant case seems to be Hines v South Carolina’s Department of Corrections … which upholds prison grooming policies which have a rational basis despite the exercise of religious beliefs,” Rowe stated.
“The courts have generally held that security and disciplinary concerns, the need to properly identify inmates and the possibility that contraband and weapons may be hidden in dreadlocks pose a security risk to prison guards and the general public,” Rowe added.
The US Supreme Court has said that constitutional protections, like the right to practise religion, do not end at the prison gates.
The Congress has also said institutions can restrict religious liberties only for compelling reasons, like security, but the policies must be the least restrictive means to accomplish that.
However, federal prison inmates have rarely been successful in challenging prison-grooming policies.
In one case, a Native American inmate spent a year in his cell and lost other privileges before a federal appeals court ruled in 2005 that the California prison system’s ban on long hair violated his religious freedom.
In a 2002 case, a group of Rastafarian and Muslim federal inmates challenged the grooming policy at the prison where they were housed and a court ordered the Bureau of Prisons to transfer them to other facilities that did not have such policies.
The court also ordered the federal prison system to evaluate inmates’ religious beliefs and refrain from sending them to states with burdensome grooming policies.
But, in the case filed by the Virginia state prisoners, a federal appeals court ruled in 2008 that the Department of Corrections’ argument that inmates could hide weapons and other contraband in long hair or easily change their appearance upon escape was a compelling enough reason to require trimmed hair.
Buju, the Grammy-winning artiste, hit the local music stage more than two decades ago as a slim, young, low-cut hardcore DJ with songs such as Browning and Deportee.
But it was as a Rastafarian with the blooming dreadlocks that he exploded on the world stage in 1995 with the massive album Til Shiloh.
Since then, Buju has sported the dreadlocks and, even though showing signs of a shave going into court last week, he has remained a well-respected member of the Rastafarian community.
Buju, whose real nameis Mark Myrie, won the 2010 Reggae Grammy for his latest album, Before The Dawn.