Criminologist Jonathan Simon refers to prisons as human toxic waste dumps where the ruling class dumps its human waste: out of sight and out of mind. Sadly, toxic waste is not just a literary analogy when discussing American prisons and jails. As PLN has reported for several decades, and this month’s cover story documents at length, many prisons and jails are built on toxic waste dumps, landfills and former mining sites, which negatively impact the health of prisoners and staff alike.
The government agencies charged with enforcing the nation’s environmental laws, such as the Environmental Protection Agency and state equivalents, all too often ignore massive environmental violations because it is the very same government causing and perpetuating the problem. Environmentalists are all too often willing to accept toxic waste and feces in drinking water as long as it is the government putting it there and not a corporation, or when prisoners are the primary victims.
One of the goals of the Human Rights Defense Center’s Prison Ecology Project (PEP) is to raise awareness around the negative impacts that mass incarceration has on the environment, and to urge the respective government agencies to enforce the laws they were created and are funded to enforce – even if the culprits are prisons and jails, and even if the people being poisoned are prisoners and prison employees. Our work around this issue has generated very favorable media coverage to date but there is very little known about the scope of the problem, except that it is sizeable.
PLN has been at the forefront of reporting on the environmental impact of mass incarceration and we will continue to do so. It remains one of the most underreported criminal justice stories of recent times. More information about the intersection of criminal justice and environmental justice is available on PEP’s website: www.prisonecology.org.
In other news, Rodney L. Bower, a former Virginia prisoner who was a contract worker for PLN, passed away on May 8, 2016, shortly after he was diagnosed with cancer. His efforts were appreciated and he will be missed.
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