You are here

prisons

Prisoners and Climate Injustice

By Natalia Cardona - 350.Org, August 8, 2017

Recent headlines are full of dire warnings about heat-related deaths. Just the other day a headline in the Washington Post stated that a third of the world’s people already face deadly heat waves. And it could be nearly three-quarters by 2100.

Recently I came across disturbing footage from a St. Louis jail showing inmates without air conditioning calling for help from inside the stiflingly hot facility. This is not the first time these type of headlines have showed up in the news this summer.

In June of this year, deadly heat waves in the Southwestern United States also led to prisoners facing inhumane conditions due to extreme heat. In Arizona, while the weather channel warned that locals should stay indoors and temperatures climbed upwards of 120 degrees Fahrenheit, 380 prisoners were left living in tents in unbearable heat.

The impacts of climate change add to the layers of injustice prisoners already face. The U.S. holds the largest number of prisoners per capita in the world. Since the 1970’s the U.S. has seen a 700% increase in the growth of prisons. Prisons are already at the frontline of injustice, because of the criminalization of people of color through failed policies like the “war on drugs”. Not only that, holding large numbers of people in enclosed facilities leads to health hazards and human rights violations. Prisons and prisoners also find themselves on the frontlines of environmental injustice. The toxic impact of prisons extends far beyond any individual prison.

Mass Incarceration vs. Rural Appalachia

By Panagioti Tsolkas - Earth Island Journal, August 24, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Feds want to build a maximum-security prison on top of a former mountaintop removal mining site in eastern Kentucky

For all practical purposes the [Cumberland Plateau] has long constituted a colonial appendage of the industrial East and Middle West, rather than an integral part of the nation generally. The decades of exploitation have in large measure drained the region.

Harry M. Caudill, author, historian, lawyer, legislator, and environmentalist from Letcher County, in the coalfields of southeastern Kentucky (May 3, 1922 – November 29, 1990)

The United States Bureau of Prisons is trying to build a new, massive maximum-security prison in the Appalachian mountains of eastern Kentucky — and there’s a growing movement to stop it.

The prison industry in the US has grown in leaps and bounds in the past 20 years— a new prison was built at an average rate of one every two weeks in the ’90s, almost entirely in rural communities. As of 2002, there were already more prisoners in this country than farmers. The industry seems like an unstoppable machine, plowing forward at breakneck speed on the path that made the world’s largest prison population.

Today, about 716 of every 100,000 Americans are in prison. Prisoners in nations across the world average at 155 per 100,000 people. And in the US, Southern states rule the chart. Viewing these states as countries themselves, Kentucky ranks at lucky number seven.

“Sounds terrible…” you may be thinking, “But what does it have to do with the environment?”

Well, this seemingly impenetrable multi-billion dollar bi-partisan government-driven industry does have a weak point: it’s a well-verified ecological mess. For a 10-year period of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Prison Initiative, prison after prison that the EPA’s inspected in the Mid-Atlantic region was plagued with violations. Violations included air and water pollution, inadequate hazardous waste management and failing spill control prevention for toxic materials.

From the initial breaking ground on construction in rural and wild places to the inevitable sewage problem from operating chronically over-populated facilities — running a prison is dirty business. And when you factor in the plethora of environmental justice issues facing the prisoners, disproportionately low-income and people of color, it becomes an outright nightmare.

Prisons, Ecology and the Birth of an Empire

By Panagioti - Earth First! Newswire, July 25, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Strange sometimes how worlds collide. Nine years ago I found myself in the swamps of the northeastern Everglades listening to an independent, traditional Seminole activist asking for support in challenging the state and federal government’s plans to fund a celebration of 500 years of Florida—a history that began, in many ways, with the founding of one of the best known tourist traps in this country’s history.

If Christopher Columbus is a symbol marking the origin of Manifest Destiny’s rampage across the western hemisphere, then conquistador Pedro Menendez de Aviles, who established the colony of St. Augustine, built the first literal foundation under that genocidal, ecocidal mindset.

Today, as I occupy my time developing the Prison Ecology Project, aimed at mapping the intersections of incarceration, ecology and environmental racism, it’s hard not to also view St. Augustine as the first prison town of what would be become the U.S. Empire—a nation that has distinguished itself in the modern world by simultaneously pushing global policies that have facilitated an unprecedented pillaging of the planet for resources and for locking people up at a never-before-seen scale or pace in human history.

For many people I’ve spoken with over the past several months, there is a gut level, intuitive response to view these things—mass incarceration and industrial pollution—as connected in some way. Since the Prison Ecology Project began earlier this year, it has been able to establish dozens of concrete examples of that connection all across the country in the here-and-now. But learning more about the history of St. Augustine, as their big 450th Anniversary celebration is about to commence in 6 weeks (featuring a planned appearance by the King and Queen of Spain), has got me thinking a lot about the deeper roots of the prison/ecology intersection. And it ain’t pretty.