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Social Justice and Environmental Justice Intersect

Any links between mass incarceration and environmental abuse might not be immediately obvious. But they exist and the Prison Legal News, the Human Rights Defense Center and Nation Inside are combining resources to talk to this unlikely but potent and dangerous intersection of issues.

The Prison Ecology Project is creating tools to dismantle toxic prisons.

Ask people in Appalachia who have watched prisons such as FCI McDowell built on exhausted mountain-top removal mining sites. Ask folks out west who’ve watched prisons plonked down upon fragile desert ecosystems. Ask those in the rust belt, who’ve seen prisons brought to town for the sake of jobs after heavy industry and mineral extraction have left town. When one would think regions couldn’t be stripped and abused anymore, the rape of communities follows that of the environment. In Pennsylvania, a prison built on a toxic coal ash dump is crippling those locked up inside.

Prisons, historically, have gone up where desperation for employment has meant little-to-no oversight, public discussion or even opposition. No one forecast problems because they didn’t want to imagine them; prisons provided an answer to your uncle Frank’s four years of unemployment.

“The prison industry has a long history of ecological violence. Rikers Island prison in New York City was literally built on a trash heap, and evidence suggests a high incidence of cancer among guards and prisoners,” writes the HRDC. “In California and Texas prisoners have little recourse but to drink arsenic-laced water. In Alabama, an overpopulated prison habitually dumps sewage into a river where people fish and swim. In Kentucky, construction of a new prison is poised to clear 700 acres of endangered species habitat. Stories like these are too common. The issues impact millions of people in and around prisons across the US but are largely ignored.”

GIVE ‘EM YOUR MONEY

The Prison Ecology Project is raising $15,000 on IndieGogo to boost its capacity to research and analyse data. They are uncovering abuses and amassing a clearinghouse of information on over 5,000 prisons nationwide which we can all use to fight poisonous prisons!

HRDC’s work in this chronically understudied area will “keep pressure on an industry notorious for its lack of transparency.”

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They’ve got the chops. HRDC is the publisher of Prison Legal News which has exposed environmental problems and covered stories of whistleblower litigation in prisons for over 20 years.

The first target of HRDC is a federal prison planned for Letcher County, Kentucky. Its construction would demolish 700 acres of endangered species habitat in Appalachia while imprisoning people hundreds of miles from their families.

WHY THE WORK?

“Incarcerated people are some of the most vulnerable and uniquely over-burdened demographics in our nation,” explains HRDC. “Almost all of the prison population is low-income, and people of color are disproportionately represented by wide margins in every state. Most people whose lives have been impacted by the criminal justice system have not engaged with the environmental movement up to the present time.”

The Prison Ecology Project changes that dynamic.

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Operating prisons stresses the environment. Recognising that provides yet another reason to fight the toxic philosophical underpinnings and racism of a broken and out of control system. Decarceration is good for your lungs!

It’s not so much as convincing players in one political action to adopt another, as it is exercising closer bonds between movements of the left that operate in opposition counter to the abuse and social exclusion of lower income groups. It’s about recognising new allies and being collectively stronger. I love this type of imagination.

IN THE PRESS

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