California Prisons are Within 2,500’ of Oil and Gas Extraction
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Oil and gas development and other industrial operations with toxic byproducts are pervasive in our country – but they don’t happen everywhere and their impacts aren’t the same. In fact, the neighborhoods most burdened with the negative health impacts of oil and gas extraction are overwhelmingly home to low-income communities and communities of color. At the nexus of these two vulnerable populations are incarcerated prisoners. Prisoners are on the frontlines of the environmental justice movement.
For decades, California has tasked incarcerated workers as firefighters, physically placing them on the frontlines of the climate crisis where they face hazardous conditions as part of the state’s disaster response. But when it comes to protecting incarcerated people from wildfire exposure and other public health concerns, the state is negligent. Prisoners are one of the highest at-risk populations for COVID-19. Not only is prisoner health overlooked in overcrowded facilities known for inadequate health care, but vaccination rates in prison staff statewide are significantly lower, and California prisons failed to provide sufficient protections from Covid-19.¹ ² Prison population vulnerability to COVID-19 is also impacted by chronic exposure to air pollution and fine particulate matter generated by fossil fuel extraction, refineries, and wildfire smoke.³
The entire prison system is an extractive industry, and like other industrial operations, prisons are located in industrial-zoned areas neighboring oil fields, drilling operations, refineries, and other petrochemical facilities. The map on Page 2 shows the industrially zoned portion of the Los Angeles suburb Santa Clarita, where the Pitchess Detention Center and North County Correctional Facility are located, housing nearly 7,000 incarcerated prisoners. The prison buildings are within 2,500’ of more than two dozen operational oil and gas wells, and there are over 100 more operational wells within the neighboring oil field.
Using CalEnviroScreen 3.0 data, this analysis reports the following findings.
- Two-thirds (67%) of California prisons (federal, state, county and local) are locatedwithin census tracts ranked in the upper 50th percentile of pollution impacted areas.
- 90% of California’s federal prisons are located within census tracts ranked in theupper 50th percentile of pollution impacted areas.
- Three-quarters (73%) of federal prisons in California are located within census tractsranked in the upper 30th percentile of pollution impacted areas.
California must take leadership to address the environmental health impacts levied on incarcerated prisoners who are forced to live near industrial pollution. Establishing responsible setbacks of at least 2,500’ for sensitive receptors (including prisons) from oil and gas drilling and infrastructure is the bare minimum to protect incarcerated people from the worst health impacts caused by oil and gas extraction and petrochemical industry emissions, including higher rates of respiratory disease, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and now increased vulnerability to COVID-19. California must also work to meet Jailhouse Lawyers Speak’s list of demands.
Pitchess and North County Detention Centers
Map Updated 9/3/2021
Figure 1. Industrially zoned portion of the Los Angeles suburb Santa Clarita, where the Pitchess Detention Center and North County Correctional Facility are located, housing nearly 7,000 incarcerated prisoners. The prison buildings are within 2,500’ of more than two dozen operational oil and gas wells, and there are over 100 more operational wells within the neighboring oil field.
References & Where to Learn More
- Feature image adapted from Prison Strike Poster by Melanie Cervantes
- Jailhouse Lawyers Speak National Call to Action
- NLG’s The Conspiracy
- National Prison Strike Demands
- Follow these hashtags:
- AllWells.shp from California Department of GEological Energy Management https://www.
- California Prison Boundaries from California Office of Emergency Services https://gis-calema.
opendata.arcgis.com/datasets/ CalEMA::prison-boundaries/ about
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