This Article argues for increased legal protections for prisoners who choose to engage in group protest to shed light on the conditions of their incarceration. A companion piece to a similar article that focused on prisoner free speech rights, this Article uses the acts of protest utilized by the Silent Sentinels to examine why prisoners’ rights to petition and association should be strengthened. By strengthening these rights, the Article argues that we will advance the values enshrined by the First Amendment’s Petition Clause while simultaneously advancing the rights of the incarcerated millions with little to no political power.
The Article proceeds in three parts. First, Part I provides the historical background necessary to understand the utility of the Silent Sentinels as an example demonstrating the importance of protecting the rights to petition and association for the disenfranchised. From there, Part II provides an overview of the doctrinal law associated with prisoners’ rights to petition and associate. Part II also discusses the deference to prison officials inherent to First Amendment doctrine as applied to prisoners. Finally, Part III examines how the activities of the Silent Sentinels amount to what almost all prison systems call “inciting a riot” under modern prison regulations and argues that such a result is inconsistent with the purpose and values of the First Amendment. Part III concludes by cataloguing examples of modern prison protest and calling for more robust protections for such protest.
Nicole B. Godfrey, "Inciting a Riot": Silent Sentinels, Group Protests, and Prisoners' Petition and Associational Rights, 43 SEATTLE U. L. REV. 1113 (2020).
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