Pennsylvania legislators are trying to stop prisoners from speaking about their ideas and experiences. Last week, PA Representative Mike Vereb introduced a bill (HB2533) called the “Revictimization Relief Act,” which would allow victims, District Attorneys, and the Attorney General to sue people who have been convicted of “personal injury” crimes for speaking out publicly if it causes the victim of the crime “mental anguish.”
The bill was written in response to political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal’s commencement speech at Goddard College, and is a clear attempt to silence Mumia and other prisoners and formerly incarcerated people. We believe that this legislation is not actually an attempt to help victims, but a cynical move by legislators to stop people in prison from speaking out against an unjust system.
While to us this seems like a clear violation of the first amendment, unfortunately the PA General Assembly doesn’t appear to agree, and they have fast-tracked the bill for approval and amended another bill (SB508) to include the same language. The legislation could be voted on as early as Wednesday.
If this bill passes, it will be a huge blow to the movement against mass incarceration. People inside prisons play a leading role in these struggles, and their perspectives, analysis, and strategies are essential to our work. Incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people who write books, contribute to newspapers, or even write for our Voices from the Inside section would run the risk of legal consequences just for sharing their ideas.
That’s why we are asking you to take action TUESDAY OCTOBER 14 by calling Pennsylvania lawmakers to tell them that prisoners should not be denied the right to speak.
Please call your legislators and demand that they vote NO on HB2533 and SB508. You can look up contact information at http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/legis/home/findyourlegislator/.
We are also asking folks to call the following Senate leaders and ask them to stop the bill from moving forward:
Senate Majority Whip Pat Browne (717) 787-1349
Senate Minority Whip Anthony Williams (717) 787-5970
Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (717) 787-4712
Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa (717) 787-7683
Not sure what to say on the phone? Click here for a sample call script.
Want to write a letter to your legislators, or looking for more talking points? Click here for more info!
Our friends at the PA ACLU are also trying to stop this bill. Click here to read a memo from their office, which explains why this bill is unconstitutional. The memo concludes, "This legislation undermines Americans’ fundamental right to free speech. If enacted, the only people who will benefit from it will be the lawyers who successfully overturn it in federal court. Please vote “no” on HB 2533 and SB 508.”