Grassroots pressure delays jail construction vote – Organizers release report detailing environmental health hazards of the proposed women’s jail in Los Angeles

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – Monday, October 10, 2016

Press Contact: Diana Zuñiga – 213-864-8931diana@curbprisonspending.org, Christina Tsao – 626-215-4818christina@criticalresistance.org

What: Report Launch and Press Conference

When: October 11th at 11am

Where:  Board of Supervisors, 500 West Temple St., Los Angeles, 90012

LOS ANGELES – Last week, grassroots organizations in Los Angeles submitted a series of concerns regarding the proposed $120 million women’s jail in Lancaster that resulted in the Board of Supervisors delaying the vote on the final Environmental Impact Report.  Organizers released a report entitled, We are not Disposable: The Toxic Impacts of Prisons and Jails today and will follow up with a press conference at the Board of Supervisors tomorrow.  The report is an analysis of the health and environmental hazards of the structures of imprisonment. The report traces the history of environmental destruction and human illness linked to prisons and jails  in California, with a focus on the toxic soils of the Antelope Valley, where Los Angeles is moving forward with a new women’s jail.

“This report details the long history of the prison and jail systems’ total disregard for the environment and for the health of incarcerated people,” said Kim McGill with the Youth Justice Coalition. “I have seen  how  destructive  jails are to people they incarcerate, their families, and their communities. This report draws attention to the severe health hazards that come along with imprisoning people in environments where they are forced to drink contaminated water and breathe infected air, adding to the endless list of reasons to not move forward with this disastrous jail project.”

One of the most significant threats of the new jail is Valley Fever, a chronic, crippling, and sometimes fatal disease that has infected people imprisoned in state prisons in Antelope Valley, including Lancaster, where the new jail would be erected. The report includes testimony from many incarcerated people who have witnessed their fellow prisoners suffer from Valley Fever or have experienced it themselves.

“The county’s final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) has not adequately addressed the long-term impacts of valley fever in the Antelope Valley. Clearly they are not taking valley fever as a real threat, neither to the prisoners nor the common public,” says Dr. Antje Lauer, a microbiologist at California State University-Bakersfield.  “Antelope Valley is one of three districts in Los Angeles County where the fungus is endemic. The EIR should include soil analyses for valley fever.”

“In the 20 years I’ve been held at Lancaster, I’ve witnessed many men contract Valley Fever,” said Kenneth Hartman, who contracted Valley Fever several years ago and is imprisoned at the state prison in Lancaster. “That Los Angeles County is considering reactivating Mira Loma as a women’s jail is horrifying. Placing people deliberately in an endemic Valley Fever area is disgustingly negligent . Human beings will die as a result.”

The analysis, a collaboration between environmental experts, community advocates, and people directly impacted by incarceration, recommends the Board vote against approving the final EIR, reject the project funding from the state, and redirect $20 million of county cash to expand diversion and out-of-custody programs for people in the community.

Endorsers of We are not Disposable: The Toxic Impacts of Prisons and Jails” include Rose Braz (Climate Campaign Director), Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Ph.D. (Professor, Earth and Environmental Sciences, Graduate Center, CUNY), Chris Tilly (Professor of Urban Planning and Sociology, University of California Los Angeles), Aura Vasquez (Director of Climate Justice at the Center for Popular Democracy) and many more.

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