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April 25, 2024

Pressley, Markey Unveil Resolution Affirming Environmental Rights for Incarcerated People

One-Third of Federal and State Prisons Located Within Three Miles of Toxic Superfund Site 

Text of Resolution (PDF)

BOSTON – Following their March 29 visit to Massachusetts Correctional Institution-Norfolk, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07) and Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Clean Air, Climate, and Nuclear Safety introduced the Declaration of Environmental Rights for Incarcerated People. This resolution affirms the human right of nearly two million people currently incarcerated in the United States to a healthy and safe environment and to advocate for protecting and improving their environmental health. The resolution specifically recognizes decarceration as the principal strategy to address environmental health harms of criminal legal systems. 

“Everyone has a right to clean air, water and living environment, including people who are currently incarcerated,” said Rep. Pressley. “As we work to dismantle the racist and harmful system of mass incarceration, we must confront the environmental injustices that define carceral settings and affirm the human dignity of folks behind the wall. Proud to introduce this resolution in partnership with Senator Markey, advocates, and those closest to the pain.”

“Our criminal legal system’s decision to put millions of people behind bars has torn apart families, destabilized communities, and allowed others to profit from mistreating other human beings,” said Senator Markey. “As we continue to fight for decarceration, we must also give currently incarcerated people the right to a healthy and safe environment. I look forward to continuing to lift up the voices of incarcerated individuals and ensure they have opportunities to work with lawmakers to translate their lived experiences into truly effective solutions.”

“For persons with lived experience, this resolution marks the beginning of connecting the intersections between carceral states of being and humanizing incarcerated populations,” said Michael L. Mauney II, African American Coalition Committee Community Outreach Director and DeeperThanWater Coalition organizer. “The passing of this resolution would symbolize an effort to eradicate the exception clause mentioned in the Thirteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. Incarcerated populations support efforts to humanize us and to decarcerate and end mass incarceration.”

The lawmakers’ resolution would ensure such rights as:  

  • A healthy environment should be universally recognized and protected by law 
  • Legal remedies for inhumane conditions should be universally available to incarcerated people and their advocates, without hindrance or delay, in courts of law 
  • Incarcerated people have the right to, and should be proactively supplied with, information and education regarding exposure pathways to environmental hazards in the facilities in which they are incarcerated 

The resolution text was developed in partnership with the African American Coalition Committee and other incarcerated leaders at MCI-Norfolk. During Congresswoman Pressley’s and Senator Markey’s March 29 visit to the facility, incarcerated individuals shared testimonials of living through a water quality crisis that has gripped the facility since 2011.  

Prisons and other carceral facilities greatly increase the exposure of incarcerated people, staff, and surrounding communities to toxic and dangerous conditions. These and other threats disproportionately harm vulnerable populations, including Black Americans, Indigenous people, Latine, and LGBTQ+ individuals, who are more likely to be incarcerated. The health impacts of incarceration are so severe that every year behind bars takes an average of two years off an individual’s life expectancy.

The Declaration of Environmental Rights for Incarcerated Individuals is endorsed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Prison Policy Initiative, Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants (CURE), and DeeperThanWater. 

“Environmental health and safety are critically important, both for incarcerated people and for those who work, volunteer, and visit in our nation’s prisons,” said David Fathi, Director of the American Civil Liberties Union National Prison Project.  “The Resolution is an important step toward ensuring environmental justice for all.” 

“We at Prison Policy Initiative strongly support a Declaration of Environmental Rights for Incarcerated People. This Declaration speaks to both the devastatingly real negative impacts of a hostile prison environment on an individual’s physical and mental health and the inalienable human right of people in prison to access clean water and air. We are proud to support this recognition of incarcerated people’s right to be free of a toxic environment,” said Sarah Staudt, Policy & Advocacy Director at the Prison Policy Initiative. 

“This resolution is a step in the right direction.  It will give criminal justice agencies, especially prisons, the obligation to rehabilitate,” said Charles Sullivan, Director of CURE. 

“We know that environmental injustice is one of the many things that make carceral settings toxic. Through that lens, this resolution makes clear that decarceration is the strongest and most important strategy we have to protect the rights of incarcerated people and to ensure that our communities are safe and healthy,” said Christine Mitchell, Sc.D., DeeperThanWater Coalition organizer.

A copy of the resolution text can be found here.