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Our History

The mountain-top removal site in Roxana, Kentucky where the BOP wants to build a new prison. This is a former coal mine

From 2015-2019, Letcher County residents, currently incarcerated individuals, environmentalists, prison justice reformers and lawyers worked together using a variety of tactics to stop the construction of the most expensive federal prison in US history – USP Letcher. The campaign culminated with a first of its kind litigation where both prisoners and local Letcher County residents sued the BOP under the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) (See Barroca v. BOP, case no. 18-2740 D.D.C. 2018). In an unprecedented victory for the health of prisoners, the surrounding community, and the local environment, the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) canceled the project in 2019.

Unfortunately, the BOP is again attempting to build a new prison in Letcher County. The agency is currently undergoing a NEPA scoping process and will soon initiate a NEPA administrative process for its proposed Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). Any new prison construction undermines progressive criminal justice reform, threatens the region’s ecology, and damages the health of Letcher County residents and prisoners, their communities, and the planet. And we are prepared to stop it again. For us, the frontlines are multi-faceted. A new prison in coal country will not only devastate the rural environment and community surrounding it; but also put the health of the people locked inside of it at risk.

Prisons are an environmental
and public health hazard

The projected location of this prison is environmentally problematic due to its proximity to coal mining, endangered bat species’ habitat, cave systems, as well as old-growth forest incapable of tolerating the ecological disturbance caused by heavy construction, light and air pollution, and runoff from human waste.

Diminishing need for federal prisons

From a criminal justice lens, BOP’s proposal is unnecessary because the federal prison population has been decreasing. While some facilities may be outdated, building a new facility will exacerbate global climate change by contributing unnecessary emissions by both the construction of the facility and supporting infrastructure.

Today organizations from Letcher County and across the country fighting for environmental justice, criminal justice reform, and at their intersections, have joined forces to again stop the construction of this unnecessary and harmful piece of infrastructure.

We intend to use our organizations’ respective skill-sets and networks to develop a national movement calling for Congress to rescind the budget money allocated towards a new prison in Letcher County, Kentucky.


“Viewing the world through the lens of dollars and cents is what got us into this nightmare, from mass extinctions to mass incarceration. These are our brothers and sisters who will be housed in that dungeon, and the life of the forest is not separate from our own lives. Compassion alone brings the possibility of our salvation.”

Connor Stevens – Formerly Incarcerated in BOP and Plaintiff in Barroca litigation

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