Jamani "Roe" Montague, receives Lester Conference Grant for paper presentation

In April 2017, ENVS minor Jamani "Roe" Montague, attended the Environmental Justice in the Anthropecene Symposium hosted at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, CO. Roe applied for and received a Lester Conference Grant to off-set her travel expenses. The opportunity to help support the research and scholarship endeavors of ENVS students is rewarding on so many levels for the department. We asked Roe to share her experience with the ENVS community so we could all share in her experience. Enjoy!

By Jamani "Roe" Montague

On April 24th, 2017, I presented a paper at the 2017 Environmental Justice in the Anthropecene Symposium hosted at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, CO. My paper was titled, "Re-Imagining U.S. Incarceration Facilities: An Ecosystem Approach to Prison Abolition."

U.S. carceral institutions house over 2.4 million incarcerated people, and their by-products have a significant impact on the health and survival of the plants, animals, and human populations that surround them. In my paper presentation, I discussed the various dimensions of “prison ecology” (i.e., how prisons interact with the natural environment) and its relationship to prison abolition. Specifically, I asked and answered the following questions: how does untreated waste and sewage from over-populated, under-regulated industrial prisons damage the water, land and air quality of surrounding environments?; What are the political/economic motivations behind the construction and maintenance of “toxic prisons”?; And finally, what are the environmental consequences of maintaining the prison- industrial complex?

Prisons today function like residential factories or like a small city packed into one building. Supporting these institutions, considering both construction and maintenance, requires: hazardous waste and trash disposal, asbestos and carcinogen control, mass-pesticide management, and a host of other environmental safety measures. Most of these preventative measures that reduce air and water pollution as well as toxic waste are neither implemented nor enforced in U.S. prison facilities.

My particular session's theme was "Environmental Justice, Violence, and Historical Exclusion." My 20-min presentation highlighted the historical exclusion of prisoners from political consideration when addressing environmental justice issues and the violence perpetuated against both prisoners and the environments in which they inhabit during the pollution process. I reviewed several localized case studies that, when placed alongside the emerging data on prison neglect and toxic exposure, highlight the growing issue of toxic prisons on a national scale. In addition, I put forth an ecosystem-centered approach to addressing the problem of prison pollution and suggested a multi-layered plan toward decarceration, ecological restoration, and the development of alternative disciplinary facilities that are classified under a different name, serve a more genuine purpose.

Presenting at the conference was definitely a rewarding experience both personally and academically. My audience was extremely receptive and offered insightful, constructive feedback that helped to expand my perspective on the subject. It was great to be able to network with other environmental justice scholars who are interested into many of the same issues that I am.