WE ARE NOT DISPOSABLE: The Toxic Impacts of Prison and Jails

Do you belong to an organization, union, or community group? We are asking organizations to sign on to an upcoming report by Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB) on the environmental and social violence of prison and jail expansion in California. Check out the summary below – to endorse, contact Diana(at)curbprisonspending.org.

Report Summary:

This report provides an analysis and evaluation of the environmental harms of prison and jail expansion in California with a specific focus on Los Angeles. Most of the data used in this report originates from state agencies (like California Department of Health, California Water Board, etc.) documenting egregious instances of government neglect. In addition, community advocates and researchers collected expert narratives of incarcerated people to outline the history of largely unaddressed environmental issues relating to prisons. This report seeks to rectify and strengthen public understanding of incarceration in California that has been significantly hindered by the routine failure of the California Department of Corrections to take the concerns of people inside their facilities seriously or to actively document the environmental harms and human rights violations that prisons create. Results of data analyzed show the pollution and environmental degradation created by prisons and jails exacerbate public health risks for not only incarcerated people but also for the local communities where detention facilities are sited.

This report finds that incarcerated people in California are systematically denied their fundamental rights to health, water, hygiene, sanitation and clean air through institutional negligence and the dehumanizing effects of inhumane water restrictions in the context of a worsening drought. Furthermore, this report finds Los Angeles County’s environmental review of the proposed construction of a new women’s jail in Lancaster to be severely inadequate in addressing sufficient water supply and potability; hazardous waste disposal and potential toxic chemical exposure; and air quality concerns including the real threat of Valley Fever as a danger to the health of incarcerated people. This report projects that the proposed women’s jail will violate the fundamental rights of incarcerated people, increase public health risk, deplete local resources and cause irreversible environmental degradation. For these reasons, it is urgent that the policymakers of Los Angeles County and the State of California adopt this report’s recommendations.

Recommendations for the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors discussed include:

  • Cancel the proposed construction of a new women’s jail and reject state funding via AB 900.
  • Prioritize the health of people incarcerated in women’s jails by using $50 million of county cash, previously allocated to the women’s jail, to fund community-based and community-operated diversion programs and alternatives to incarceration.
  • Invest county funds in researching the long-term impacts of Valley Fever on incarcerated people in Lancaster State Prison and Challenger Memorial Youth Center as well as residents in the Antelope Valley and greater Los Angeles area.
  • Take immediate action to rectify and prevent any further leaking of hazardous underground storage tanks at the Mira Loma facility.

Recommendations for the Governor of California and State Legislature discussed include:

  • Protect the dignity and restore the power of incarcerated individuals, their families, and their communities by systematically phasing out incarceration and re-directing funds toward effective jail and prison diversion programs.
  • End prison and jail construction because it exacerbates unsustainable water extraction and increases public health risks in regards to Valley Fever exposure.
  • Focus on the closure of prisons in California instead of the refurbishment of the twelve oldest prisons, at least four of which continue to have dangerous environmental impacts on those incarcerated and the communities around them (San Quentin, Deuel Vocational Institute, CA Men’s Colony and Correctional Training Facility).