Bureau of Prisons cancels $505 million project after pressure from activists
TayebMEZAHDIA / Pixabay
Bureau of Prisons cancels $505 million project after pressure from activists

The US Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) withdrew its plans to construct a US Penitentiary and Federal Prison Camp in Letcher County, Kentucky, on Thursday.

A group of federal prisoners and advocacy groups, including the Abolitionist Law Center and Green Justice, challenged the construction of the new prison in a federal lawsuit. The complaint outlined the environmental concerns raised by the proposed construction of an 800-acre prison over a former coal mining site and asserted that the public, especially federal prisoners, ought to have had an opportunity to comment on BOP’s proposal. The complaint further noted that a $505 million investment in a new prison would likely be rendered unnecessary by Congress’s passage of the First Step Act, projected to significantly decrease the federal prison population.

The Trump Administration, in its proposed budget for fiscal year 2020, echoed the complaint and likewise recommended canceling construction of the Letcher County prison, noting the declining federal prison population. Though Republican House Representative Hal Rogers has long advocated for the prison’s construction in hopes that it would boost Letcher County’s economy, the Trump Administration suggested that the economic benefits to the area would be minimal.  The proposed budget also noted that the environmental challenges associated with constructing a prison atop a former mountaintop coal mine would contribute to the costs and delays of the project. In its statement in the Federal Register, the BOP stated only that it withdrew its plans “based on new information which may be relevant to the environmental analysis for the proposed action.” With the proposal withdrawn, Congress will decide how to reallocate the $505 million allotted to the project.

Dustin McDaniel, Executive Director of the Abolitionist Law Center, applauded the project’s cancellation in a press release:

Spending hundreds of millions of dollars to build a new prison makes no sense with the substantial decreases in the federal prison population over the last several years. We hope the BOP’s action ends this prison project permanently, and that it also signifies a turning point nationally, away from investing money in prison construction, and toward increased investment in communities devastated by mass incarceration.