Pennsylvania’s Revictimization Relief Act was signed last week to prevent criminal offenders from causing their victims “mental anguish,” but many are questioning the bill’s implications for free speech.
The sweeping new law has become known as the “Mumia Bill” after outspoken inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal, who has given numerous speeches and published columns and a book from behind bars after being convicted for the 1981 murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner. The bill allows victims to seek “appropriate relief” from their offenders “for conduct which perpetuates the continuing effect of the crime,” but the legislation is open-ended as to what that conduct could entail.
Johanna Fernandez, a history professor at Baruch College, spoke out against the bill on HuffPost Live.
“If I, tomorrow, say something that causes anguish to [Daniel Faulkner’s wife] Maureen Faulkner or other victims’ families, this law appears to set a precedent for the erosion of free speech in other circumstances,” Fernandez told host Marc Lamont Hill.
Fernandez said that the law specifically targets prisoners like Abu-Jamal, who have remained vocal from behind bars through prison radio and other recorded speaking engagements. It also could lead to indictments against those who “amplify” such voices, she added.
According to Fernandez, the bill also feeds into a larger narrative of negative sentiments towards prisoners.
“How are we going to restore humanity to people behind bars if we can’t hear from them?” she said.
Watch the full HuffPost Live interview discussing Pennsylvania’s new bill here.