In recent years, many have raised concerns about what they perceive to be an increasingly hostile climate towards free speech in the West. But missing from this discourse is a recognition of what may be the most grave and far-reaching assault on free speech of our time: mass incarceration. Those in prison are severely limited in their opportunities to communicate with others, and prisoners’ vulnerability to reprisal further erodes their freedom to speak. Even after release, ex-prisoners’ voices are suppressed: many are disenfranchised from voting, and economic disempowerment, plus lost social capital, further mutes their political voice. But by committing a crime, does one forfeit their speech rights? I argue not. Incarcerated individuals’ speech rights, I contend, are not wholly theirs to forfeit; when incarcerated people are denied opportunities to speak, the rest of society is deprived of the right to hear what they have to say. This silencing is particularly problematic when it comes to hearing (ex)prisoners’ views on policing and criminal justice reform – issues upon which they have special epistemic insight.
This internal talk is for Oxford Uehiro Centre members and associates.
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