By Zarria Simmons

August 12, 2022

Much of the work being done for incarcerated people has to do with balancing the disproportionate rates at which Black and Latino men are sentenced to prison compared to white men, or restoring voting rights for the incarcerated. However, there is another issue plaguing this same demographic that may directly contribute to their incarceration rates – the current declining climate.

The rates of incarceration for a Black man is currently 1 in 15, and for a Latino men it is 1in 36. Incarceration rates are often higher in urban areas, where we also see higher rates of climate issues like poor air quality and water quality. These issues often affect Black and Brown neighborhoods more like in Flint Michigan, a predominantly Black community. The water contamination continues there with residents still having to drink bottled water. Michigan has one of the highest incarceration rates in the country and is ranked  number 10 on the list.

 In these communities there is little access to livable wages and consistent work. The educational system is underfunded and lacks skills-based training. All too often, residents turn to petty crime out of desperation.

In urban areas access to green spaces can mean all the difference for local residents. Green spaces provide those who enjoy them with a break from the concrete jungle which can increase emotional and physical health.. They also reduce heat, which creates better air quality in the surrounding neighborhood. A luxury urban areas rarely achieve.

Green spaces are not as abundant in low low In low income areas as they are in more affluent communities. This contributes to the poor air quality experienced in low income urban neighborhoods. 

The climate crisis is also having a major effect within prison systems. Incarcerated people feel the affects of climate change more directly than the rest of us. Over 2.2 million inmates across the country have been experiencing extreme heat within the 1,800 or so facilities in the U.S. due to overcrowding and poorly designed facilities.

Statics show that many people have become accustomed to writing off non-violent criminals from these low income urban neighborhoods as “hoodlums.” When the reality is, they are people forced to survive in harsh conditions. The vast majority of Americans will never experience the same struggles they do, or and be faced with the even tougher decisions on how to survive in these conditions.

Heat is the most common weather caused death experienced in the U.S and around the world. If policymakers, and academics alike don’t include correctional facilities and incarcerated people in their plans to alleviate climate related problems, the imprisoned are sure to experience a greater threat to their lives while in our care.