The impact of incarceration is environmental as well as human. Prisons are often located in or near degraded areas, and are often built and managed in ways that add to hazards for inmates, staff and surrounding communities.
Advocacy groups report that almost 600 prisons are located within three miles of government-designated contaminated sites, with 100 within a mile of such sites.
According to a 2014 investigation of a Pennsylvania prison built in the middle of a toxic coal ash dump, 80% of responding prisoners said they experienced respiratory, throat and sinus conditions. Ten inmates died of cancer and six more were diagnosed with cancer in a three-year period.
In August 2020, the Idaho Department of Corrections was sued for dumping effluents from one facility into a nearby river in violation of federal permits.