Silencing Act Overturned, But the Fight For Prisoners’ Rights Continues

Yesterday, a Federal Judge struck down the Revictimization Relief Act, aka ‘the Silencing Act,’ because the law is “manifestly unconstitutional.” Passed in 2014, the Silencing Act gave DAs, victims, and the Attorney General the power to sue people convicted of personal injury crimes simply for speaking publicly. The judge wrote that "The First Amendment does not evanesce at the prison gate" and that the law “is unlawfully purposed, vaguely executed, and patently overbroad in  scope.” This decision is a huge victory for currently and formerly incarcerated people, for our movements, and for the untold number of people who have been and continue to be moved, inspired, and educated by the words and ideas of people in prison.

However, the fight is far from over. There is a world of difference between the right to speak and the ability to be heard. Pennsylvania laws and policies silence people in prison in many different ways, and Pennsylvania lawmakers routinely pass legislation that leads to mass incarceration and erodes prisoners’ rights.

People in prison are silenced every day through mail censorship, high phone rates, lack of media access, and denial of access to the courts. They are silenced because they are locked up hundreds of miles from their loved ones. They are silenced by solitary confinement, by abuse and retaliation by guards, and by a lack of access to medical and mental health care. And they are silenced by the racism, poverty, and gross violations of human rights that prop up and perpetuate the prison system.

Yet despite these barriers, every day prisoners are finding ways to break through that silence, and to participate in movements for social change. But these movements will not be successful without strong collaboration across the prison walls. Defeating the Silencing Act is a victory, but we are still a long way away from justice.

That is why, on May 4th, Decarcerate PA and our allies will still be in Harrisburg occupying the Capitol steps for 24 hours, sharing the words of people in prison. Although the protest was originally conceived of as a way to defy the Silencing Act, the striking down of the law does not mean our fight is over. As long as legislators in Harrisburg care more about what is expedient than what is right, as long as DOC policies continue to abuse and silence people, as long as we live in a state that funnels people into cages rather than investing in education, liberation, and transformation, our protests must and will continue. We hope you will join us.

Learn more about the May 4th protest here.