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From the Editor

From the Editor

by Paul Wright

For several decades PLN has reported on the intersections between mass imprisonment, the criminal justice system and the environment. Most specifically, the environmental destruction and degradation that prisons impose on surrounding communities – whether it entails building prisons in pristine environments like the High Sierra Mountains of California or the deserts of Arizona, or siting them on toxic waste dumps like the Rikers Island jail complex in New York City or on abandoned coal mines in Ohio and Pennsylvania. In those cases it is the prisoners and staff who are exposed to the consequences of long-running environmental disasters, such as contaminated water. The flip side of the criminal justice environmental disaster coin is that of the prison itself as a polluter. Past issues of PLN have reported how prisons across the country have been the sources of toxic waste contamination, mostly from sewage but also from hazardous chemicals and other pollutants.

This month’s cover story, a PLN exclusive, focuses on the ongoing sewage discharges at the Monroe Correctional Complex in Monroe, Washington. The irony, of course, is that even as prison systems harm the environment they are now trying to “greenwash” themselves as somehow being environmentally benevolent because they have installed a few solar panels, conserve water or use prison slave labor to compost prison garbage, while at the same time dumping raw sewage into neighboring water supplies. The sidebar article on the Washington State Penitentiary’s ongoing toxic discharges is in many ways an old story, as we first reported on that issue in 1995. Not much has changed since then; the prison continues to pollute and the Washington Department of Ecology continues to issue meaningless citations.

It is interesting to note that in seeking comment on these stories no elected officials in Monroe would respond, nor would local environmental groups. I used to think that no matter what one’s views were on criminal justice issues, no one wants feces in their drinking water. It appears I was wrong and that many people are fine with feces in their drinking water so long as it’s the government putting it there for them. It is telling that when the Washington DOE and DOC were asked for comment, they both responded with a joint statement.

The Human Rights Defense Center, which publishes PLN, has filed an environmental impact statement with the federal Bureau of Prisons over the negative impacts of building a maximum-security facility in an area of Appalachia that has severely contaminated water as a result of decades of coal mining, and which is the habitat of the endangered Indiana bat. HRDC has also filed a comment with the Environmental Protection Agency, requesting that they consider prisoners in environmental impact statements as part of the EPA’s environmental justice practices, which to date have specifically excluded prisoners. These initiatives are part of our new Prison Ecology Project, which seeks to put the issue of environmental justice as it relates to prisons and jails on the national map. We currently need to raise $50,000 to launch this project. If you can make a donation, please donate via postal mail, phone or our website, and note it is for the Prison Ecology Project. If you like this type of journalism and advocacy, you need to support it! The website for the project is:

We are still collecting stories and information from prisoners and their families related to prison and jail phone services. This includes hearing from people subjected to dropped calls, who were charged fees to obtain refunds from their phone accounts, or who had their money seized by prison phone companies due to “inactivity” or other lack of use. If you have details about such incidents, please contact us: Prison Phone Justice, HRDC, P.O. Box 1151, Lake Worth, FL 33460;

We are also seeking information related to money transfer services. If you or someone you know has been released from prison or jail and received money on a debit card that charged fees to withdraw the funds, we would like to hear from you. Likewise, if you or someone you know has been charged fees to send money via an electronic transfer service like JPay or Keefe Access, we would like to hear from you as well. Send your stories, information and any supporting documentation to: Stop Prison Profiteering, HRDC, P.O. Box 1151, Lake Worth, FL 33460. Or contact us at

Finally, it is with great sadness that I note the death of Lawrence K. Karlton. Mr. Karlton was a federal district court judge in Sacramento; he was appointed to the federal bench in 1979 by President Carter, where he remained until August 2014. He died on July 11, 2015. Judge Karlton presided over the most significant prison cases of the 21st century, including Plata v. Brown and Coleman v. Brown related to medical and mental health care for California prisoners, respectively. In those cases he ordered significant relief for the unconstitutional conditions to which prisoners were subjected, as well as a major reduction in the state’s prison population. I met Judge Karlton at a prison litigation conference several years ago and he commented that prison reform litigation was the most grueling because the pace of change was so slow, but that he was determined to see the cases through until prisoners had constitutionally adequate medical care. He will be sorely missed.

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