Skip navigation

Articles by Panagioti Tsolkas

Plans for a New Federal Prison on Coal Mine Site in Kentucky Withdrawn

Could the failure to move forward on USP Letcher indicate an end of the Appalachian prison boom?

by Panagioti Tsolkas

“I refuse to have our community’s future built on the backs of other people.” That’s what Letcher County, Kentucky resident Elizabeth Sanders said to an NBC reporter last year who was inquiring about local opinions on a proposed federal prison in the area where she lives. 

At the time, opposition efforts to stop the USP Letcher prison seemed bleak. But as of June 2019, in a rare turn of events resulting from persistent opposition and a lawsuit, the proposed facility is officially off the table. Gaining a deeper understanding of how and why the prison was stopped could help criminal justice reform advocates undermine a half-century of mass incarceration in the United States.

On March 22, 2018, NBC published its article on opposition to the proposed 1,200-bed facility. While plans to construct the most expensive federal prison in the nation’s history were already five years along, the write-up was the first major news coverage about USP Letcher. The article’s title, “Does America need another prison? It may be this rural county’s only chance at survival,” reeked of the same ...

“It Smelled Like Death”: Reports of Mold Contamination in Prisons and Jails

by Panagioti Tsolkas

“There was big, dark, gray, blackish mildew around the air vent and that’s where the air was coming from … it smelled like death.” – Candie Hailey, Rikers Island pre-trial detainee

Over the past several years, Prison Legal News has focused attention on environmental health impacts that prisoners ...

Prisoners File Environmental Lawsuit Against Proposed Federal Prison in Kentucky

by Panagioti Tsolkas

More than three years after a controversial environmental review process for a new federal prison, conducted by the federal Bureau of Prisons and its consulting firm Cardno, attorneys filed suit in November 2018 on behalf of 21 federal prisoners spread across the country. The plaintiffs claim they ...

Litigation Surrounding Radon Exposure at Connecticut Prison Moves Forward

by Panagioti Tsolkas

“We’re talking about levels in some places that are equivalent to smoking 2½ packs of cigarettes a day,” said Lori A. Welch-Rubin, one of the attorneys who filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of prisoners at the Garner Correctional Institution (GCI) in Newtown, Connecticut. The case centers ...

Arkansas DOC Says Water is Safe, but Most Tests Not Conducted in Housing Units

by Panagioti Tsolkas

In July 2018, former prisoners and their family members in Arkansas raised concerns about a variety of issues at a hearing with state lawmakers, included concerns about the water quality at several prisons. One ex-prisoner said the water at the East Arkansas Unit was not even “fit ...

California Prison Spends $417,000 on Bottled Water as Contamination, Violations Continue

by Panagioti Tsolkas

What was intended as a state-of-the-art, $32 million prison water treatment plant has turned into yet another state infrastructure boondoggle. Since the plant’s completion in 2010, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s (CDCR) Deuel Vocational Institution, which uses brackish wells on its grounds, is supposed to ...

Water at Massachusetts Prison Under Scrutiny from Prisoners, Advocates, Public Agencies

by Panagioti Tsolkas

When Wayland Coleman, a prisoner at MCI-Norfolk in Massachusetts, stepped out of the shower last year he noticed something strange. It was as if the towel he used to dry himself was, in his words, “used to wipe dirt off the floor.”

“I don’t know exactly what ...

Federal Correctional Complex at the Center of City’s Water Debacle

by Panagioti Tsolkas

Any attention that Florence,Colorado receives from the world outside its rural and mountainous borders tends to involve the federal Bureau of Prisons’ (BOP) supermax facility, built near the city 25 years ago. And news coverage of the prison, known as the ADX, doesn’t tend to be very ...

Environmental Protection Agency Finally Recognizes Prisons in Screening Tool

by Panagioti Tsolkas

Two years ago, the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), which publishes Prison Legal News, introduced the concept of prison environmentalism, building off the work of jailhouse lawyers, scholars and activists around the country. On many occasions spanning the last four decades of mass incarceration in the ...

One of Tennessee’s Most Pristine Rivers Contaminated with Prison Sewage

by Panagioti Tsolkas

It's a rare case when one state agency penalizes another with more than a slap on the wrist. This year, in a move that surprised local environmentalists, Tennessee joined the growing list of states where environmental agencies have imposed fines against prisons for chronic water quality violations. ...