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HRDC files comment opposing federal prison siting on former coal mine in Kentucky

Prison Legal News, March 31, 2015.

Human Rights Defense Center

For Immediate Release
March 31, 2015  

Human Rights Groups and Environmentalists Oppose New Federal Prison on Abandoned Coal Mine in Kentucky  

Organizations and individuals from across the country have joined the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC) in filing a comment opposing a plan by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to build a new federal correctional facility in the Appalachian mountains of eastern Kentucky. The comment, filed on Monday pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), addresses multiple issues related to a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that analyses two potential locations for constructing the largest federal prison in the region—both on former coal mining sites.

The public comment, which can be read in its entirety here, follows several years of controversy surrounding this project in a rural region where the prison industry has made many unfulfilled promises of economic prosperity to local communities.

The comment provides a thorough analysis of the impact of the proposed facility siting and addresses social, economic and ecological concerns, including:

  • Health impacts on the surrounding community from prison sewage and industrial waste;
  • Health concerns for prisoners who will be forced to use highly contaminated water;
  • Impacts to forest, farmland and regional waterways;
  • Impacts to over 50 threatened species, including the rare and federally-endangered Indiana Bat;
  • And finally, whether the prison is actually needed and what alternatives exist to our nation’s longstanding policy of mass incarceration. 

The proposed prison project cannot proceed unless the BOP complies with the requirements of  the National Environmental Policy Act. Based on HRDC’s findings set forth in the comment,  the EIS fails in numerous respects to adequately identify environmental impacts and describe legally-required mitigation efforts.

“For 40 years the federal government has been building prisons on abandoned mines, toxic waste sites and polluted military bases, endangering the prisoners, staff and communities that house these facilities,” stated HRDC Executive Director Paul Wright. “The time has come to end the prison building binge, reduce prison populations and house prisoners in the communities that they come from and will return to in safe conditions that protect prisoners, staff, the environment and public safety.”

HRDC has been advocating on behalf of the human rights of people held in U.S. prisons, jails and other detention facilities for the past 25 years. As an advocate for incarcerated people, HRDC is concerned about the environmental impacts of prisons—both the impacts felt by prisoners themselves as well as impacts on the “external” social and ecological environment.

HRDC also publishes Prison Legal News, a monthly magazine on prison- and criminal justice-related issues nationwide. For more information, please visit: and

HRDC’s comment was signed by nine other organizations and eight individuals, including the Center for Biological Diversity, a group that has litigated on behalf of the Indiana Bat; the Abolitionist Law Center, which is representing prisoners who have reported serious health issues at a state prison in Pennsylvania related to surrounding coal mine operations; the Global Justice Ecology Project; Kentuckians For The Commonwealth and three professors at Eastern Kentucky University.


For further information, please contact:

Paul Wright, Executive Director

Human Rights Defense Center

(561) 360-2523


Panagioti Tsolkas

HRDC Prison Ecology Project

(561) 360-2523