Prison Ecology Project

The mission of the Prison Ecology Project is to map the intersections of mass incarceration and environmental degradation, and create action plans to address the multitude of problems found there.

The Prison Ecology Project addresses issues such as: damage of sewage and industrial waste from overpopulated and under-regulated prisons into to water ways; threats to listed species by the ongoing construction and operation of prisons in remote, environmentally-sensitive rural areas; and environmental justice concerns regarding prisoners, staff and surrounding communities.

Check out our partners at The Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons


Prison Ecology and the Flint Water Crisis

Feb 18, 2016 | by admin

By now, much of the world knows that politicians like Michigan Governor Rick Synder sat on their hands while knowing that public water was poisoning the residents of Flint with lead and Legionnaire’s Disease.

“Here’s your water filtration system. By the way, you have a warrant for your arrest.” A prisoner in the Genesee County Jail, Jody Cramer, said that was the story he heard from multiple other people who were locked up alongside him. Although many of these prisoners had not likely been found guilty of a crime yet, potentially irreparable punishment may have begun the day they entered the jail—where access to both uncontaminated water and the truth about it was even harder to come by.

By now, much of the world knows that politicians like Michigan Governor Rick Synder sat on their hands while knowing that public water was poisoning the residents of Flint with lead and Legionnaire’s Disease.

Internal emails obtained through public records requests by the group Progress Michigan show that Snyder’s office was aware of a Legionnaire’s outbreak linked to using the Flint River as a city water source as early as March 2015.

In October 2015 a public health emergency was declared by the Genesee County Health Department regarding high levels of lead in the city’s tap water. By the end of the year, the Flint Mayor announced a state of emergency and the National Guard was distributing bottles to residents (a full year after the offices of state officials began receiving bottles.)

Many Flint residents have been buying bottled water throughout this crisis, but those stuck in the jail have not had the same option available to them.

After Mayor Karen Weaver declared the state of emergency the jail briefly switched to distributing bottled water. Only five days later, the facility switched back to the city supply after sheriff Robert Pickell claimed a water quality test showed the water was safe. After his decision being questioned, the jail again switched to using bottled water on January 23.

Jody Cramer was one of the prisoners tasked with distributing them. After his release later that month, Cramer explained that they were only receiving two 12-ounce bottles twice a day, including pregnant women who were in the facility. This is far below the suggested daily amount of water that the Institute of Medicine recommends, which says men and women should drink 100 and 73 ounces of water, respectively, every single day.

According to Cramer, “Many inmates made complaints, due to the fact that the deputies would not drink from the faucets. They all carried bottled water,”

The news of these prisoners’ treatment comes during increasing concerns about Flint’s juvenile justice system. Mayor Weaver has pointed out the severe implications of lead poisoning, saying, “damage to children is irreversible and can cause effects to a child’s IQ, which will result in learning disabilities… and an increase in the juvenile justice system.”

The Genesee County Sheriff is far from the only entity to ignore its prisoners. The Human Rights Defense Center’s Prison Ecology Project has documented dozens of problem facilities across the country, including state and federal prisons, where prisoners face disproportionate environmental health impacts including water and air pollution from toxic industrial activity.

Examples include arsenic in rural water supplies across the southwest; coal-related contamination across the region of Appalachia, such as the active coal ash dump surrounding a prison in Pennsylvania and a 2014 catastrophic chemical spill in West Virginia where prisoners were forgotten during the state of emergency and forced to drink contaminated water. In many of these cases found by the Prison Ecology Project, those who report complaints about these issues have often faced disciplinary action by prison officials.

Sources: Associated Press; Think Progress; Democracy Now!