The role of environmental impact reports in prison abolition movements

Authors: Ian Baran*, University of California - Irvine, Anthony Levenda*, Arizona State University
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Environment, Ethnicity and Race
Keywords: environmental justice, environmental impact assessments, prison abolition
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Executive Room, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Environmental impact reports (EIRs) pose an opportunity for advancing prison abolition movements through new strategies aligned with environmental justice (EJ) movements. Prison abolitionists have been using EIRs to work against the building of prisons, citing evidence of undue and disproportionate environmental burdens on some of the most disenfranchised populations: prison populations. EIRs can be an important way to show the harmful effects of the construction of new jails and prisons, and has worked to garner mass mobilization. EIRs generally emphasize inequity among marginalized populations. The neighboring communities of these facilities tend to be populations considered disposable by state and local government and their decisions. On top of the immediate struggle that exists, the EIR is also an important part of the archival history of the struggle for prison abolition. Our analysis centers on the development of an archive that documents the vitality of the environmental report and the decisions by boards of supervisors, sheriffs, local, state and federal government to either disregard the environmental health and safety of those inside, the immediate surrounding neighborhoods, and the larger impact on the planet, or their willingness to engage in alternatives to policing and incarceration. We find that EIRs are generally only used as a tactic in broader strategies to prevent the construction of new jails and prisons, but it is an important piece to mobilize activity and awareness among different groups who might not otherwise be mobilized to fight against the broader impacts of prisons on their communities.

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