Environmental Justice in the United States
In United States, Inmates Vulnerable to Their Environment
By Robert Clinton, 2015-08-03
It is no secret that the United States has a severe flaw in its criminal justice system. Even if one chooses to dispute the validity of the seemingly endless accounts of police misconduct that have permeated our media in the last few months, the statistics on incarceration must be acknowledged. According to the United States Census, African Americans comprise approximately 13% of the total United States population, but represent nearly 40% of the prison inmate population. Black men, in particular, suffer disproportionately from the system of mass incarceration, and there are more African American men in jail or prison in the U.S. than the total prison populations in India, Argentina, Canada, Lebanon, Japan, Germany, Finland, Israel and England combined as Huffington Post tells.
At first glance, this seems to be a mere human rights issue, completely unrelated to environmental racism or environmental justice. However, activists are increasingly calling attention to the link between the environment and prison populations. Naturally, detention facilities are often built on land that has been rejected for commercial or residential purposes. As such, many prisons in the United States seem to occupy damaged or dangerous. New York City's Riker's Island Jail is situated on possibly-contaminated landfill, water for the inmates of Southern California's Kern Valley State Prison pumped from below their facilities contain levels of arsenic much higher than allowed by federal safety standards, and a proposed prison in Kentucky would be constructed atop a former coal mining site. Inmates at prisons across the country are often counted in the facility's county population as part of a numbers game to boost funding and political power in the area, but are not considered by the EPA when a new detention center's environmental impact is being evaluated.
The environmental justice movement seeks to make the world more sustainable and equitable for everyone, regardless of race, class, national origin, sexuality, et cetera. Our fight has just been further complicated, or perhaps enriched, by the introduction of a new population arguable more vulnerable than any other: prisoners who do not have the social or political capital necessary to advocate for themselves. Visit the Human Rights Defense Center to read more about their Prison Ecology Project.
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