It is no secret that the United States locks up more people in prison than any other country on the planet. There are more than 2 million people locked up across the USA. Based on the total population of the USA, the per capita rate of incarceration has risen more than 700 times since the 1970's. The only country that has a higher incarceration rate that the USA is the Seychelles, which is a string of tiny islands off the coast of Africa. They have a total population of less than 100,000 people.

In terms of comparable countries, China locks up just 1.7 million people, and that from a population of well over a billion people.

What is less talked about, is the fact that in many cases, being sentenced to prison in the USA means a slow, toxic poisoning from known environmental factors.

Cruel and unusual

Prisons aren't popular places. No one wants to live near one, and the value of the land they are built on is nonexistent. For these reasons many prisons are built near or on abandoned industrial sites, and this has led to a toxic situation that may be causing all sorts of preventable diseases.

More than 500 prisons in the USA have been built within 3 miles of superfund sites, and there has been no research done to appraise the possible damage this could be doing to the prison population.

Near the little borough of Brownsville, Penn.

you will find SCI Fayette, which is a prison that holds 2,000 men at present. The area was once a busy center for industry, but no there is little action to speak of. Across the street from SCI Fayette a waste site exists, and this dump has been used to get rid of Coal Ash. Coal ash is highly toxic and contains a range of heavy metals like, mercury, lead, arsenic, hexavalent chromium, and cadmium, among other noxious chemicals that are terrible for human health.

The coal ash was being dumped freely across the road from the prison, and inmates reported a daily dose of dust covering everything in the area. Many have developed strange cancers, though no one has admitted that the coal dust was responsible.

Invisible suffering

People who are incarcerated are forgotten about by the public, with criminals taking on a role of “the bad ones” in our society.

But no matter how awful a person has been, they don't deserve to be slowly poisoned over the course of decades, only to die a slow death of cancer.

SCI Fayette is only one example of this horrendous injustice with many other cases of abuse taking place on a daily basis. Thankfully in the case of the coal ash, a judge's order has halted the dumping, for now. Until we address the worst among us with respect and compassion, there can be no improvement in these conditions.

While people who are convicted of crimes should be incarcerated, leaving them to a slow, toxic death is unconscionable.