Fight the toxic prison – organizing between ecology and incarceration

Edited by Fern’s Dad

The Prison Ecology Project (PEP) addresses the intersection between the environment and incarceration. Initiated by Paul Wright of Prison Legal News and the Human Rights Defense Center, PEP seeks to bring environmental activists and the skill sets of the ecology movement to the struggle against the prison industry, prisoner’s rights, criminal justice reform and prison abolition. PEP builds on the experience some radical environmental activists gained when we were either thrown in prison for eco-actions, or organized support for imprisoned activists. These experiences gave us an inside look at the prison epidemic in the US. With the steady stream of urban uprisings against the police state, there has never been a better time to organize at this intersection of ecology and incarceration.

One way to accomplish this is to expose the stream of environmental and health violations flowing from overcrowded prisons around the country as a weak point in the system of mass incarceration. A prime example is the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) plans to build a massive maximum-security prison on top of a former mountaintop removal coal mine in Letcher County, Eastern Kentucky, an area surrounded by sludge ponds and coal processing and transport operations. This produces an environmental justice nightmare, where prisoners, who are disproportionately low-income and people of color, face toxic conditions behind bars. The prison site is a mile from a rare and biodiverse pocket of Eastern old-growth called the Lilley Cornett Woods.

As of December 2015, the BOP got $400 million approved for the prison’s construction. The newly formed Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons (FTP) is organizing to stop the Letcher county prison and looking to grow a coalition of opposition.

Stopping one prison is not a magic bullet to ending the US police state, the one that gave way to world’s largest prison nation and in turn serves as the apparatus of repression that keeps the planet shackled to industrial capitalism, but it’s a pretty good place to build from. In particular, it is a powerful place that the environmental movement can express solidarity with the growing rage over the racist criminal justice system.

PEP is helping to organize a convergence in support of eco-prisoners & against toxic prisons June 11-13 in Washington DC. For over a decade, June 11 has been a day of international solidarity events with environmentalists and anarchists imprisoned for their actions in defense of the Earth. The gathering will have networking, strategizing and organizing June 11/12, culminating with a mass action on Monday the 13th. The gathering will put dual pressure on both the BOP and the EPA regarding the Kentucky prison, and environmental justice issues related to prisoners in general, while continuing to fight for the release of eco-prisoners in the spirit of June 11th. We also hope to see this effort build stronger bonds between the eco-defense movement and the movements against police and mass incarceration.

For those interested, but can’t make it to D.C., the BOP has 5 regional offices or you can organize your own June 11 event anywhere. For more info, email