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 PE 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.


About Us


The Prison Ecology Project has been created by the Human Rights Defense Center in order to investigate, document and take actions to address the ways in which mass incarceration degrades the natural environment and the human health of those inside or nearby prisons and jails.

The vast prison population in the US has become, in many respects, a nation unto itself. Incarcerated people, formerly-incarcerated people and their families share a common experience that is akin to being part of a cultural diaspora with communities spread across the country in detention facilities. That reality doesn’t just impact the people involved, but also has significant ecological effects. The environments surrounding prison and jail facilities share common, unique characteristics—what we are calling prison ecology.

The Prison Ecology Project (PEP) offers a unique opportunity to go on the offensive against the prison industry’s long history of serious water pollution and ecological degradation occurring, literally, behind closed doors.

While the environmental impacts of mass incarceration are massive, the social implications are also impossible to ignore. There are well-over 2 million people in US prisons, as well as countless family members and friends who feel the impacts of dysfunctional incarceration policies. These policies have left one out of 28 kids with a parent locked up—in keeping up with the times, Sesame Street now has a character whose parent is incarcerated.

Most people whose lives have been impacted by the criminal justice system have not have engaged with the environmental movement up to the present time. The PEP creates an entryway for them, as we are able to illustrate that the environmental toll of building and operating prisons indicates yet another reason to massively reduce the nation’s prison populations and send people back to their families.

Thus, an additional result of the project: the growth of the environmental movement.

PEP Steering Committee: Fifteen people comprise the current decision-making body, representing a broad range of experiences and backgrounds, as well as geographic dispersal, to ensure effective organizing on a national level. We will soon begin a membership drive to build the capacity of the Project, and will be looking forward to your support.

TAKE ACTION: Fight the Feds’ Plan to Expand the Gulag Archipelago of Appalachia

The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has proposed to build a new facility located in the mountains of eastern Kentucky. Their plan represents much of what is ecologically problematic with prisons.

The BOP plan is specifically occurring in an area which has already been heavily impacted by coal mining operations and is in the biological process of recovery. The two site options are on or very near National Forest land. While low-income communities in Letcher County, KY are being sold this prison as a job creator in desperate times, using $500 million dollars of public money to cover these new forests with concrete and electric fences sets a bad ecological standard for post-mining areas.

On March 30, 2015, the Prison Ecology Project coordinated an extensive public comment submitted in response to the release of a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). This comment was signed by 23 organizations and individuals, indicating a regional and national commitment to challenge this facility’s environmental impacts.

You can still submit a comment for the public record.

The BOP is accepting comments on the Final EIS.


  1. Send a brief letter to the BOP telling them that you oppose the Letcher County prison, you support the HRDC comment on the draft EIS, and you want to be added to the list to receive the final EIS report when it is complete. Send emails to Issac Gaston:
  2. Write a short comment on this local news story, stating that you support efforts to oppose the prison
  3. Make a donation to HRDC’s efforts at stopping this prison (If you do so, please send me an email so I can earmark your support for this effort.)
  4. Check out this film, Up the Ridge, about Appalachia’s Gulag Archipelago and share it with others



The Prison Ecology Project is a program of the Human Rights Defense Center.

You can reach us by phone (561) 360-2523


Mail: Prison Ecology Project, PO Box 1151, Lake Worth, FL 33460