Lawyers from Pittsburgh and New Orleans, along with 21 federal convicts spread out in prisons across the United States, have filed suit against the government to stop the construction of a federal prison in Letcher County.
The suit claims the U.S. Bureau of Prisons violated the law by failing to place documents concerning the prison construction in the libraries of federal prisons around the county so prisoners could read them and comment on them. It also claims the prison site is “toxic” and would endanger prisoners, while at the same time saying construction “would permanently degrade the already vulnerable environment. It requires clear-cutting over 120 acres of forest habitat for endangered bat species, excavating and grading an additional 59 acres, destroying three acres of wetlands, building an entirely new wastewater utility in the region, and emitting thousands of pounds of additional greenhouse gas emissions.
The suit was filed by the Abolitionist Law Center and the “Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons.” The Abolitionist Law Center is one of the plaintiffs in the case, and its executive director, Dustin McDaniel, is one of the attorneys. The second lawyer, Emily Posner, is a civil rights lawyer in New Orleans.
Also listed as plaintiffs are 21 federal prisoners. Only one of those, Robert Barroca, is currently in Kentucky. Barroca, 54, is serving a 30-year sentence in the Federal Medical Center in Lexington after pleading guilty in 2004 to multiple drug charges in California. The remaining plaintiffs are scattered in prisons from Georgia to California. None are from this immediate area.
The suit says the prisoners should have access to the environmental impact study documents because they are the ones who will suffer adverse health effects by living in the prison. It calls the prison “pork barrel politics,” and says its only purpose is to provide construction and development contracts to constituents of U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, who has pushed for construction of the prison.
The lawsuit asks the court to declare the Bureau of Prisons’ Record of Decision to build the prison a violation of the law and set the decision aside, reopen the comments period and place copies of the environmental impact statement in all federal prisons for inmates to read. It also asks for a permanent injunction to prevent the BOP from moving ahead with construction of the prison until it demonstrates it has complied with the National Environmental Policy Act and the Administrative Procedure Act.
The suit says that the Abolitionist Law Center has “devoted a significant amount of economic resources” fighting for prison reform and environmental justice, and seeks to recover the plaintiffs’ “reasonable attorney’s fees, costs, expenses, and disbursements associated with this litigation.”
The Abolitionist Law Center describes itself as “a public interest law firm organized for the purpose of abolishing class and race based mass incarceration in the United States.
Most of the attorneys on staff and board members are either recent graduates of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, or professors at the law school. One of its board members, Jihad Abdulmumit, is chairman of the National Jericho Movement, an organization that seeks to free “political prisoners and prisoners of war” incarcerated by the United States. Abdulmumit, of Richmond, Va., classes himself as a political prisoner and prisoner of war because of his membership in the Black Panther Party and the Black Liberation Army in the 1970s. Abdulmumit spent 23 years in prison on charges related to two bank robberies.
It is not clear what the Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons is. That group describes itself as “a collaboration with the Abolitionist Law Center,” however there are no leaders for the group listed on its web page and the web address’s owner information is hidden from the public. The Mountain Eagle was unable to find any record of a nonprofit corporation by that name in Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Texas, Louisiana, or on the IRS web site, though the group has a Go Fund Me page that lists it as a charity in Fort Worth, Texas.