New Pennsylvania Law Stifles Prisoners’ Free Speech

New Pennsylvania Law Stifles Prisoners’ Free Speech

By Christopher Zoukis

On October 21, 2014, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett signed into law the Revictimization Relief Act (HB 2533/SB 508), which enabled victims of crime to petition a judge to censor Pennsylvania state prisoners, if the prisoner’s words cause or will theoretically cause “mental anguish” to a crime victim, regardless of who committed the crime against the victim and the content of the speech. The law has widely been reported to be an attack on Pennsylvania state prisoner and social justice advocate Mumia Abu-Jamal. Many interest groups, including the ACLU of Pennsylvania and the National Writers Union, have strenuously opposed the legislation.’s Seth Ferranti succinctly presented the facts of the bill’s signing, but also contributed to the discussion by sharing how Abu-Jamal’s book Live from Death Row had given him the “ambition to pursue a career as a journalist . . . despite [his] incarceration.”

He also made a point of showing that people like Abu-Jamal — successful prisoners, that is — have an impact upon fellow prisoners by showing that even in prison personal progress can be had.

CounterPunch.orq’s Linn Washington Jr. profiled another Pennsylvania state prisoner — Lorenze “Cat” Johnson — in an effort to show how the Pennsylvnia justice system often lacks compassion when it comes to prisoners. Washington also provided coverage of both Abu-Jamal’s history and the fact that this is actually the second time that he has been a commencement speaker at Goddard College, albeit by telephone.

The Associated Press via ABC 30 Action News provided curious coverage of Goddard College itself and Abu-Jamal’s speech. As it turns out, Abu-Jamal actually “did not address the crime for which he was convicted” during the speech, a point not widely reported. Goddard College, a low-residency college in Vermont, has about 600 students who neither take tests nor receive grades, according to the AP.

PeoplesWorld.orq’s Eric Gordon contributed a resonating objection to the Revictimization Relief Act by pointing out that the “First Amendment exists not just to protect speech we agree with, but also that which might offend and challenge us.”

Mumia Abu-Jamal himself also sounded off on the legislation during an interview with DemocracyNow.orqs1 Amy Goodman. During this 15-minute telephone interview, which was conducted through his prison’s monitored telephone call, he expressed concerns of the Revictimization Relief Act being unconstitutional and effectively being a mechanism of the state to further censor prisoners.

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