"It's not easy being green," the Politics of Sustainability in Prison

Authors: B. Jewell Bohlinger*, Syracuse University
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Human Rights
Keywords: Prison, Incarceration, Sustainability, Justice, Political Ecology
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/11/2018
Start / End Time: 5:20 PM / 7:00 PM
Room: Rampart, Sheraton, 5th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Over the past 30 years the U.S. prison population has exploded. With only 5% of the global population, the U.S. now incarcerates more than 25% of the world’s prisoners. America’s Toxic Prisons reports that at least 600 state and federal prisons are located within three miles of a superfund site, which expose prisoners to a variety of health hazards. As David Pellow argues in The Prison System as a Space for Producing Just Environments, most prisoners are low-income and nonwhite, and this presents mass incarceration as a serious environmental justice issue. In response to environmental concerns and calls to action by the Justice Department to implement more sustainable and cost-effective strategies in prisons, the United States is seeing a surge in prison sustainability programs. Washington and Oregon both have full-participation in the Sustainability in Prisons Project—a program that seeks to “green” prisons to diminish their environmental footprint and lower recidivism. I argue that these programs use “sustainable” rhetoric to create a neoliberal environmental subject. By ignoring the immediate environmental justice concerns of the prisoners’ disproportionate exposure to chemicals, these programs reflect middle-class environmental logic that non-critically advocates personal austerity as a means of improving the environment. This presentation will be based on my fieldwork in three Oregon state prisons.

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