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Campaign of Repression

By Mumia Abu Jamal

The most repressive regime in America just got more repressive. In November, 1992, the Pennsylvania (PA) Department of Corrections implemented revised administrative directives 801/802. [ Editors Note: These rules affect only prisoners in administrative and disciplinary segregation. ]

With planned restrictions barring all but personal and legal mail and a ban on all books (save a Bible or Qur'an), it is a broad based attack on the mind.

Most insidious are the provisions governing legal material. They suggest the other regulations are mere smokescreens designed to divert attention from the state's principle objective: the stripping of jailhouse lawyers. For the legal materials sections of the PA regulations govern all prisoners in the hole, whether for disciplinary or administrative reasons.

There is solid support, from scholars and statistical analysis, for the notion that jailhouse lawyers are the targets of the new rules. In 1991, one of the most exhaustive studies to date on the targets of the prison disciplinary system were released. The report, titled The Myth of Humane Imprisonment , [ Editors Note: the report is still available for $5.00 from the Prisoner Rights Union, P.O. Box 1019, Sacramento, CA. 95812-1019. ] found there is a statistical hierarchy of who receives the harshest disciplinary sanctions from prison officials. Authored by criminologist Mark S. Hamm, Dr. Corey Weinstein, Therese Coupez and Francis Freidman, it presents tables reflecting the most frequently disciplined of prisoners:


% of Sample

Jailhouse Lawyers




Mental Handicaps


Gang Members


Political Prisoners








AIDS Patients


Physical Handicaps




In accounts supporting the statistical data, the authors wrote, "respondents observed that guards and administrators had a standard practice of singling out jailhouse lawyers for discipline in retaliation for challenging the status quo."

While the data supports the widely held notion that blacks are often targets of severe sanctions, that jailhouse lawyers are the most sanctioned is striking. For jailhouse lawyers--men and women self trained in law and legal procedure--are among the most studious (in law, at least) in the prison and therein lies the rub.

The evidence suggests, and the new regulations clearly supports the notion, that prison administrators don't want studious, well read prisoners. Rather, they prefer inmates who are obedient, quiet and dumb. Why else would a prison expressly forbid a person from expanding their learning through correspondence courses or educational programs?

It would seem that any institution daring to use the term "corrections" would require all of its charges to participate in educational programs, for how else is one "corrected?" Yet, disciplinary prisoners are forbidden from the one resource designed to moderate behavior and enhance self esteem--education.

For them, many of whom are illiterate, books are deemed "contraband" and educational courses are proscribed.

In that one regard, more than any other, lies the solution to the often bewildering conundrum labeled as "corrections." The state raises its narrow institutional interests--that of "control" by keeping people stupid--over an interest that is intensely human: the right for all beings to grow in wisdom, insight and knowledge, for their own sakes as well as their unique contribution to the fund of human knowledge.

This intentional degradation of the soul by the state, which allows a being to degenerate or vegetate yet forbids one from mental expansion, is the most sure indictment available of a system that creates, rather than corrects, the most fundamental evil in existence--that of ignorance.

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