Across Appalachia

Proposed Federal Prison in Kentucky Raises Environmental Justice Concerns

Date: August 10, 2016

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Activists and residents are currently fighting a plan to build a new federal prison in Roxana, Ky., on land where mountaintop removal coal mining and gas drilling have taken place. County officials have said that the prison, which will likely receive $444 million in federal funding, will bring local jobs to an area that has seen economic decline as the coal industry falters.

But local activist group Letcher Governance Project argues that there are better investments than prisons, and that the previous three prisons built in the state did not deliver on the economic promises made prior to construction.

The prison is proposed to be built on an abandoned mine, potentially exposing incarcerated individuals, prison staff and those living nearby to leftover contamination from mining and gas drilling that resurfaces during construction, Panagioti Tsolkas of the national organization Prison Ecology Project says. The group has also commented that the quality of water delivered to the prison could be affected from past mine activities.

“New prisons have been portrayed as an economic opportunity for the struggling residents of rural Appalachia, but prisoners in the coal fields are also on the front lines of Appalachia’s environmental justice struggle,” says Tsolkas.

– Hannah Petersen

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