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Public Says No to Silencing Prisoners’ Speech

Democracy is never served by silence.

I would not have guessed that people cared so much and so well about US prisoners. The Governor of Pennsylvania is expected to sign into law a dangerous precedent that we all need to speak out against and put a quick stop to. In the first day since posting the following petition, over 10,000 people have signed it and added quite eloquent reasons why. It can be signed here.

We stand against the passage, in Pennsylvania, of the so-called “Revictimization Relief Act,” which affords virtually unlimited discretion to District Attorneys and the state Attorney General to silence prisoner speech, by claiming that such speech causes victims’ families “mental anguish.” Politicians are claiming a power that if granted to them will be difficult if not impossible forcitizens to check.

In seeking to silence the legally protected speech of prisoners, the state also damages citizens’ right and freedom to know — in this case, to better understand an area of US life physically removed from public scrutiny.

This legislation emerged following the failure of the Fraternal Order of Police and its allies to stop prisoner and radio journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal from delivering an October 5, 2014, commencement address. This bill sacrifices the rights of all prisoners in Pennsylvania in order to silence Abu-Jamal — an unethical deployment of collective punishment by those in power.

Victim relief is not served by denying fundamental rights to those convicted, especially because prisoner freedom of speech is crucial for redressing wrongful convictions and the current crisis of harsh sentencing that is often disproportionate to alleged crimes. Our society is currently engaged in a full-scale debate on the problems of mass incarceration that could not have developed without prisoners’ voices.

Here’s a PDF of the names and comments of the first 10,000 plus people to sign this. Flipping through the first few pages, these comments jump out at me:

Lawrence Fine NY This is an ill-conceived bill.

Christopher Scerbo ME Democracy is never served by silence.

Robert Post NJ The only proper answer to bad speech is good speech!

Ellen Kirshbaum NY Why does speech frighten these corrupt politicians? Let all prisoners SPEAK!

Jenefer Ellingston DC Why is our local or national gov’t afraid of Free Speech?

Allan Carlson NJ This is a FASCIST law. It represents that antithesis of the intent of the Founding Fathers who penned the US Constitution.

Jesse Reyes NJ This bill only makes sense if it is known, beyond all shadow of doubt, that the incarcerated person is actually “guilty.” The Innocence Project and several other high profile cases (“The Central Park Jogger” case) has proven that far too many incarcerated people are not guilty of the crimes they were sent to prison for. I would not want to deny anyone their rights on that basis alone. This bill is wrong and should not be signed by anyone who actually cares about our Constitution and our Bill of Rights.

Jan Clausen NY This bill threatens to make Pennsylvania a poster child for the unconstitutional curtailment of the free speech rights that are known around the world as one of the great strengths of US system. Pennsylvanians and all US citizens need to wake up and soundly reject this ill-conceived measure that threatens the freedoms of all.

Dallas C. Galvin NY Censorship for the state that promotes itself as the site of the US Constitution and home of Benjamin Franklin and William Penn? Deeply troubling behavior. Rethink, then reject. Mr. Jamal (let’s be clear about motivation here) has been able to show the corruption and disingenuousness of the D.A., the state senate, and police. Clean up your own acts, then you need no longer fear free and unfettered speech.

David Drukaroff NJ I have tried to win exoneration for a wrongfully convicted inmate for the last 25 years. People have a right to know how this inmate feels.

Chad Sell PA Does anyone care about the constitution anymore?

Katharine Rylaarsdam MD Public officials are servants of the law, not demigods who should be granted unlimited arbitrary power.

Edward Costello CA This is outrageous.

Julimar Castro MN Wrongful and disproportionate convictions exist. To prevent these people from speaking is outrageous. I suspect those proposing this law care more about silencing convicts and preventing them from telling the truth regarding the system, than about the families themselves.

Robert Belknap NC This is theft of rights, pure and simple.

Paul Palla PA Have you heard of the Constitution? You know, that thing that guarantees everybody FREEDOM OF SPEECH??!?

Nancy Norton NY I used to visit prisoners in our local jail. It is too easy to forget these people, members of our community and citizens of our county. The right of free speech should not be abridged because a person is serving a sentence in prison or jail. We need to remember these people and not dismiss them as a group we can ignore.

J. R. Jarvis WA I believe in justice, human rights and the constitution – this ain’t it!

Ralph Calabrese NY Too many of our freedoms are being taken from us.

Sean Murphy FL These abuses of power must be stopped and we must resist the 1% from using criminals and other hot topics to pass laws that ultimately will affect us all.

Sharyn Diaz OR Prisons have replaced the poorhouses in America and now you want to silence the common folk…shame on you…all of you who support just another try at control.

r. tippens MA This is a law straight from Stalin’s text book. Please…do not embarrass this democracy.

Betsey Piette PA Once again Corbett & Co. will waste millions of tax dollars to defend their criminal violation of citizens’ Constitutional Rights but can’t find money for public education?

Dave Jecker TX Being a prisoner is bad enough and their punishment is that given to them for their actions. Words should never be silenced and that is a human right. We have seen how governments silent individuals and groups and it leads to nothing except rebellion. Right to speech is everyone’s human right, it is not something you can take away.

Samuel Perry NJ Prisoners are on the front line of our civil liberties battles. The rights that oppressive governments first strip from prisoners are the rights the same regimes will later strip from “non-citizens” and finally “citizens” themselves. Free speech doesn’t come from Government and cannot be taken away by government. Philadelphia should know that.

Donna Friedman FL So many in prison for drug use, mental illness and even falsely accused. They should have the right to say what goes on there.

Joanne Snyder CA No lessons learned about corrupt Pennsylvania judges who sentence juvenile offenders in exchange for money? Who is paying for this?

Rev. Jake Harrison TX Freedom of speechdoes not exclude inmates – and some of the most poignant voices in history were those of inmates.

Casey Lyon VT Let us not forget the insightful words of Dostoyevsky: “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.”

JG Tentler NY This dangerous precedent must not be allowed to be established.It’s implications are chilling and are clearly designed to muzzle the free speech of one Political Prisoner,at the expense of every wrongly incarcerated petitioner who is stifled by it.

Carol Stanton NC We must not become a gulag state.

Add your signature.

For more information:
Bring Mumia Home
Free Mumia
Text of the bill

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