With COVID-19 Looming, We Must Shut Down SCI Fayette

SCI Fayette and surrounding coal ash site

“Inmates, the guards, the staff, the residents, everyone is in harm’s way,” says Richard Mosley, coordinator of the Fayette Justice Health Project with Put People First PA and a former SCI Fayette inmate, “There is no other alternative but to get people off of the site.”

The toxic coal waste surrounding the prison has caused health issues for all in its vicinity for years. The drinking water at the prison is so polluted that prison staff sued for access to bottled water and won.

Prisoners are still forced to drink the polluted tap water.

Matt Canestrale Contracting (MCC) operated the toxic coal ash dumpsite in LaBelle until 2015. MCC received coal ash waste from coal producers like NRG and First Energy, and then disposed of it. Coal ash, which is so light it easily travels through the air, contains many toxins. According to the 2014 ALC report, this waste is likely the root of severe respiratory problems, pulmonary disease, high rates of cancer, and other health issues from which prisoners, prison staff, and townspeople in LaBelle have suffered for years.

So far, they’ve chosen to ignore them despite the evidence of detrimental health effects and the public outcry.

Jackson Kusiak, organizer with HRC, says,

“Our understanding is that Fayette is used as the end of the line prison in PA. The fact that it’s built on a toxic dump is used as a threat for prisoners like you don’t want to be sent to Fayette because you’re being sent there to die.”

Now under threat of COVID-19, which attacks the respiratory system, prisoners and staff already suffering from weakened respiratory systems are at increased risk of contracting and spreading the disease. The public health crisis at SCI Fayette could turn deadly if COVID-19 were to spread in the prison.

1. clean water for people in prison and in the town

2. adequate, full coverage health care for people in prison and people in the town

3. and shutting down SCI Fayette.

The first two demands are essential for the health and humanity of those incarcerated now, but shutting down SCI Fayette is the end goal. The prison should never have been built on millions of tons of coal waste to begin with.

“If a virus is causing you to change your behavior, what happens if the soil, air, and water around you is contaminated but you can’t leave or go anywhere? It’s a certain death.” This has always been life at SCI Fayette for the inmates. “I’m fighting for everyone but I can only speak from an inmate perspective. Inmates can’t get out of the way. They have no options.”

Through their campaign PPF PA and HRC want to bring light to the horrendous conditions at SCI Fayette and build pressure on this issue. The call to close the prison comes from prisoners, families, community organizers, townspeople, prison staff, and in the past has even come from a corrections officer at the prison. Governor Tom Wolf and the DOC must listen to the voice of the people who demand:

shut down SCI Fayette.

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Abolitionist Law Center

Abolitionist Law Center

ALC is a nonprofit law firm fighting to protect prisoners, and a community organizing project aiming to build a world without prisons. abolitionistlawcenter.org