A Solitary Watch investigation into the sites of the federal government’s two “supermax” facilities—the first open for two decades, the second slated to open soon—reveals a number of possible serious environmental hazards. The prisons, ADX Florence in Colorado and AUSP Thomson in Illinois, are built to hold men in extreme solitary confinement. This practice has roused increasing controversy in recent years, due to the psychological and physical damage caused by extreme isolation and sensory deprivation. Yet the impact of underlying environmental hazards on individuals locked down in small cells has never been adequately explored.
With rising concerns over environmental justice and the prison-industrial complex, some advocacy groups are questioning why prisoners are not taken into consideration when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approves environmental permits. The Human Rights Defense Center’s (HRDC) Prison Ecology Project and 92 other organizations, including Solitary Watch, drafted a letter to the EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice, arguing that because incarceration “fall[s] into a category of poverty discrimination policies which almost exclusively impact poor communities, with a disproportionate impact on poor communities of color,” federal prisons should be more thoroughly evaluated before permits are approved.