Across the Midwest, Counties Are Building New Jails on Toxic Land

Nestled in Cleveland’s Industrial Valley, the intersection of Transport Road and Rockefeller Avenue holds the story of the city’s toxic past — and potentially poisonous future. Once the home of a massive oil refinery, the plot is now the potential new home of a $700 million jail in the heart of Cleveland’s industrial corridor.

Officials from the county say that the new jail is necessary to provide a safer, better-resourced facility. more than one dozenIn recent years, detainees have died in county custody. However, the plan has led to a movement to prevent the construction of the jail on the site that the Ohio government had once considered unacceptable. too toxic for a state prison.

“It’s a slap in the face,” said Yvonka Hall, a member of the coalition to stop the Cuyahoga County Jail.

The potential Cleveland facility highlights a trend in the Midwest that has seen a boom of jail construction in recent years. At least 23 jails — totaling $3.6 billion — have been either proposed or constructed on toxic and contaminated lands since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a Capital BAnalysis of local news coverage and federal data from National Institute of Corrections. These facilities are available in all but three other locations. These were located in their state’s toxic air corridors, where the most harmful health risks from air pollution, including COVID-19Both cancer and HIV are both found.

This trend has many implications for Black people. In states where the 23 projects are located — Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin — Black people are nearly six times more likely than other racial groups to be incarcerated, making up more than 40 percent of those locked in jails and prisons.

David Pellow, director of Global Environmental Justice Project, University of California Santa Barbara, said that the construction of detention centers on contaminated lands reinforces a form of environmental racism that is often overlooked.

“It’s literally putting these folks in double jeopardy, putting them in an inherently unsafe place that causes health and mental health problems by design. Then you’re going to layer environmental, chemical toxicity on top of that,” Pellow said.

“This practice is an amplified case of environmental racism,” he added. “Because incarcerated folks are completely powerless, most people in society embrace this disenfranchisement and environmental violence.”

Boom in Jail Construction

Ironically, those environmental health hazards have been partially funded through billions of dollars in federal COVID relief available since 2020. At least nine counties were found in Capital B’s analysis have either used or planned to use federal pandemic funds to build the detention facilities. Meanwhile, jails drove millions of COVID-19 infectionsAccording to a 2021 research, this was the first year of the pandemic.

The following counties are located throughout the country: at least 18 statesA recent investigation by The Nation revealed that many people have used or wanted to use COVID funds for the construction of new jails.

The U.S. jail spending is now higher than ever. The country spends more than any other country. $25 billion annually on county detention facilities, according to the latest nationally available data in 2017 — a 13 percent increase in spending over the previous decade.

Since 1970, America’s jail capacity has grown from 243,000 beds to roughly 1 million. An outsized amountAccording to a University of Nebraska study, most of this growth occurred in the Midwestern states.

Municipalities have the ability to a Documented historyBuilding detention centers in heavily polluted regions Los Angeles to New YorkThe Midwest has become a center for urban revitalization as industrial cities have moved through it. These sites, which were once industrial, have been left vacant for years, and cash-strapped states needing new revenue sources, have been rezoned for homes, businesses, or jails.

A new $600 million jail has been built in Wayne County, Michigan. Sandwiched betweenA waste incinerator, also known as a hazardous waste treatment station, is frequently cited for exceeding the emission standards. This practice is also found in rural areas. In Ohio’s Appalachian region, Coshocton County officials have proposed a $30 million, 120-bed jail on top of a former steel plant.

New jail facilities have been constructed. grown in conjunctionWith high levels of poverty in formerly industrial areas. Indiana has seen poverty rise by 30% since 2005. than 50,000 industrial jobsHave disappeared, a recent investigation by the Vera Institute found that 40 percent of the state’s 92 counties are building jails or planning jail construction.

These areas have been a source of environmental problems, especially for Black Americans. A new, 1,000-bed jail with a $175 million price tag is being built in urban Dane County in Wisconsin. This area has the highest levels of air pollution in the state. As of August 11, 53 percent of the county jail’s population was BlackDespite the fact that the county has less than 6 percent Black population,

Only 150 miles from Cleveland Franklin County, Ohio’sNew 1,300-bed, $360 million jail — which the county wants to fund through COVID relief money partially — is built in an area where residents have a higher cancer risk from air pollution than 99 percent of the state and a lower life expectancy than 98 percent of the country.

This trend has pushed the connection between incarceration & environmental justice to the forefront a social movement. In Wayne County, Michigan, Vigo County, IndianaFor example, activists tried to block the construction new jails using environmental laws.

Cleveland’s Industrial Valley

Cleveland’s toxic past is hard to escape. With the Civil War still raging, it is difficult to escape. oil tycoon John D. RockefellerHis first oil refinery, which was located at what is now 2700 Transport Road, was purchased in 1863. Operating for four decades before the country had uniform pollution standards, this refinery, one of Rockefeller’s 21 oil refineries in Cleveland, was his company’s flagship.

Fast forward nearly a century to the early 2000s, the site, now an industrial waste recycling plant, was once again one of the city’s most environmentally toxic. The industrial plant was in violation of federal clean-air standards for years and was fined tens of thousands before being shut down. After a high-octane gasoline tank explosion at the plant injured six workers, the plant’s operators, General Environmental Management, decided to close Instead of paying $1.2 million, opt for this:to bring the site upto safety, environmental, and health standards.

The site is now home to a shipping container storage facility and high levels of diesel pollution. Given its current industrial use, it’s not surprising that, despite multiple rounds of environmental remediation, it is still home to levels of the cancerous chemical benzene and the climate change-causing methane gas at levels well above standards.

Hall, the activist who opposed the county jail, asks how locating the facility on a toxic spot will solve the problem with inhumane conditions that county officials often point out.

“You force people into areas with contaminated soil and high levels of particulate matter where they’re going to get sick, but won’t get the medical attention they need or the food they need,” said Hall, director of the Northeast Ohio Black Health Coalition. “What does this do except set them up for a lifelong engagement in the justice system?”

This was earlier in the year a county consultant claimed despite this site’s toxic past, it would not be viable to look for other sites and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars per site on testing. It’s not a “scary property,” the consultant said, adding that placing a jail on the site would be an example of “normal urban redevelopment.”

Pellow warns that this rhetoric, which suggests that most urban areas could have some environmental contamination, is dangerous. “If it is so hard to keep people safe and find land that is not toxic, then maybe we need to start looking beyond incarceration,” he said.

The state’s Environmental Protection Agency is expected to give its ruling on the potential site soon.

Cleveland’s environmental health impacts are wide-reaching. Although millions of dollars have been allocated to address lead exposure, children living in Cuyahoga County continue to have the country’s highest risk. In 2016, about 10 percent of kids in Cuyahoga County were exposed to lead at or above the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s standards. Within the city limits of Cleveland, lead poisoning rates for children are almost identical four times the national average.

This is a public health catastrophe that is twice as widespread as the lead poisoning emergency caused by the Flint Water Crisis, is caused by soil contamination through the city’s industrial past and aging housing stock. Cuyahoga County’s housing stock contains 80 percent lead. Cleveland has nearly 90 percent.

“We need to talk about the cyclical impact this has on our communities,” Hall said. “We’re poisoned starting as children, we find lead in our blood and bones. Then, it stops our ability to fully develop cognitively, causing poor decision-making.”

“Then, you add the fact that many of our communities are poor. They’ve created a jail and prison pipeline.”