Capitol Steps Occupied to Defend Prisoner Free Speech

Press Contact: 

Ashley Henderson, 215-310-0424

For immediate release: May 4, 2015

On May 4th, Decarcerate PA and allied organizations will unite on the steps of the Capitol in Harrisburg to celebrate the overturning of an anti-prisoner law and to protest the ongoing silencing of people in Pennsylvania’s prison system. The 24-hour demonstration will kick off with a rally from 11 AM - 2 PM, at which protesters will share the words of current and former prisoners targeted by anti-speech legislation. 

The Revictimization Relief Act, also known as the Silencing Act, was fast tracked through the Pennsylvania General Assembly and signed into law by former Governor Tom Corbett.  This law authorized the censorship of currently and formerly incarcerated people if their words could be construed as causing “mental anguish” to the victim. A clear attempt to silence Pennsylvania prisoners, the Silencing Act was overturned by a federal judge on Tuesday, April 28.  Judge Christopher C. Conner 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.”

More than sixty people incarcerated in Pennsylvania’s prison system have contributed statements to be read at the protest in defiance of the Silencing Act. “Sometimes great minds come from prisons where one can directly focus their energy on something positive and beneficial. Don’t silence us, embrace our contributions to society.  We too wish to contribute in an effort to elevate the world and those around us,” wrote participant Sami Williams, who is currently imprisoned at SCI Greene.

The protests are demanding that the Attorney General not appeal this decision, and that the state legislature not to reintroduce this law or any other anti-prisoner legislation. They are also demanding that the Department of Corrections stop all forms of silencing prisoners by allowing the media full access to DOC prisons, stopping mail censorship, ending restrictions on visitation rights, and ceasing all retaliation against individuals who speak out against unjust prison conditions.

“Although this particular law has been repealed, we want to make Governor Wolf and state lawmakers understand that this type of legislation is unacceptable,” said Decarcerate PA member Layne Mullett. “This law falsely implies that people with criminal convictions have nothing to teach or offer the rest of society, so this protest will emphasize the profound contributions of people who have been imprisoned.”

Advocates argue that the Silencing Act is not a genuine attempt to support victims of crime, but rather an attempt to silence individuals faced with criminal charges as well as the movement to end mass incarceration in general.

Incarcerated Decarcerate PA supporter David Lee, writes: “We must exercise our voices at every possible opportunity because we have no other weapons available to us. We must resist the attempts of anyone who wishes to further strip us of our humanity.”

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The 24 Hour Speak In is co-sponsored by: Youth Art and Self Empowerment Project, The Human Rights Coalition, Books Through Bars, X-Offenders for Community Empowerment, The Center for Returning Citizens, Reconstruction, Inc. and New Sanctuary Movement.

Decarcerate PA is a grassroots coalition of organizations and individuals dedicated to ending mass incarceration in Pennsylvania. For more information, visit decarceratepa.info.