The Prison Ecology Project, which attempts to collect and analyze data dealing with the effect prisons have on the environment, and how that affects inmates themselves, is in the final week of an IndieGoGo campaign to raise $15,000 in hopes to to expand their scope.
The project was launched as a part of the Human Rights Defense Center, according to Panagioti Tsolkas, Prison Ecology Project Coordinator. The Human Rights Defense Center “distributes around 50 different criminal justice, legal and self-help titles, and continues to publish Prison Legal News, which has become a 72-page monthly publication with subscribers in all 50 states and internationally.”
There are two facets to this specific campaign. One side is gathering funds to prepare to argue and fight against plans to build a new prison in the area of Letcher County, located in eastern Kentucky. Another is building a database which will include 5,000 locations across the country. Tsolkas hopes users will be able to identify prisons close to them which put up red flags when it comes to regulation and the impact they have on the surrounding ecological system.
The IndieGoGo campaign gives some information about their plans to tackle the Kentucky prison plans.
“Our first target? A federal prison planned for Letcher County, Kentucky whose construction would demolish 700 acres of endangered species habitat in Appalachia while imprisoning people hundreds of miles from their families. If we raise these funds, we will plan an organizing tour across the southeast to mobilize against the permitting of this prison.”
Tsolkas wrote more about the situation in Kentucky for a blog post on the Prison Ecology Project’s website.
“The plethora of problems associated with mass incarceration in this country has become a policy issue that is being grappled with nationwide,” he wrote. “At half-a-billion dollars in federal tax money —with an estimated $200 million just for excavation and grading on the mountainous site — the estimated construction costs alone should be sending up red flags across the country.”
While money is a huge issue, Tsolkas continues to write that “there is also a very serious environmental toll for this project. Either of the sites proposed by the BOP poses a threat to 71 species of plants and animals which are listed as endangered, threatened or of a special concern.”
Tsolkas and his colleagues are attempting to take the proposal head-on, building what he calls a “war chest” of information and data that would help stop the plan in its current form. As for the database, he hopes that a good amount of the funding will be going towards meticulous research.
“Luckily, working with Prison Legal News connects us to a history of prison-wide research tools, but it’s still likely several thousand research-hours to collect the basic data which prisons are environmental threats based on age, overpopulation, industrial operations on site, water sources, sewage outputs, energy sources, carbon footprint, EJ concerns (toxic sites, flood threats, etc.),” he writes in an email. “But doing this will give tool for local organizers to take this fight into their local communities.”
The Prison Ecology Project and the Human Rights Defense Center are advocated pushing for federal agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to reform and enact new policies that would better conditions for not only the environment, but for the prisoners it affects as well.
In July, the Human Rights Defense Center released a press statement about the EPA’s failure to protect prisoners in their plan to protect, as the statement reads, “vulnerable communities that have been overburdened by industrial pollution.”
The EPA defines environmental justice as “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. EPA has this goal for all communities and persons across this Nation.”
Tsolkas writes that “Pushing the EPA to recognize environmental justice (EJ) communities in prisons would mean the environmental health protections intended under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 could apply to many prison facilities where they are getting any type of federal support to operate, or if their construction or expansion would have impacts at any federal level (for example pollution in navigable waterbodies).”
He notes that changes in federal laws and regulations forces the change within state-level facilities, whether they are willing to change or not. Sometimes, they aren’t.
A page on the Prison Ecology Project’s website gives a wealth of sourced information into past EPA inspections, in which they found violations at state-level prisons.
The IndieGoGo campaign includes a few other instances where prisoners are affected by the environment around the prison.
“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. 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.”
The Prison Ecology Project has just four days left in their IndieGoGo campaign. Contributing to it will allow the campaign against the Eastern Kentucky prison to further itself, while also helping fund the national database.