October 14, 2014
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Dear Senator ___________
We are writing to share our concerns about the possible implications of Senate Bill 508. House Rep. Mike Vereb’s “Revictimization Relief Act” (HB2533)has been amended into the language of SB508. The language of the bill is very broad, affecting many more people and activities than just Mumia Abu Jamal or future commencement speeches. We believe that it is an unconstitutional danger to individual liberty and hope that you and your colleagues will speak and vote against SB508 and HB2533 on the senate floor.
The problems with SB508/HB2533:
These bills allows suits against “any offender,” in or out of prison, who has committed a “personal injury crime,” a term that includes any mental or physical injury due to negligence or defamation, even a alcohol-free vehicular accident.
These bills authorize suits against prisoners and returning citizens “for [any] conduct which perpetuates the continuing effect of the crime on the victim [including] … mental anguish,” a phrase so imprecise it could include any speech or act made in public.
Because it’s called the “Revictimization Relief Act” one might assume that only victims can bring suits against these offenders. But the bill also authorizes county District Attorneys and the state Attorney General to sue without the approval, or even knowledge, of the victims.
In total, SB508 and HB2533 would place far too much power in the hands of a small number of officials and do little to truly help crime victims. Many people within Decarcerate PA and within our communities have been victims of crimes. Their experiences have informed our thoughts about the needs of victims and the possibilities of healing our communities after trauma:
Prisoners and formerly incarcerated people and their families have often been victims: they have felt this pain as well.
More important, further silencing people convicted of crimes will not provide mental relief to people they have harmed, most of whom aren’t police officers from the other side of the city. They usually live and work in the same community; they often live in the same neighborhood. Tragically, some were even friends or family. Healing these wounds requires not silence but compassionate networks for unpacking trauma.
If the legislature is serious about addressing the trauma experienced by survivors of violence, they should work to provide comprehensive victim services—such as counseling, community-based mediation, and other restorative practices—which would prevent further crime and build healthier and safer relationships and communities, instead of further stripping prisoners of their rights.
Please vote against SB508 and HB2533.
Very truly yours,