This paper first defines Internal Periphery as a theoretical model to analyze Appalachia, and a distinction of Internal Colonialism is discussed. Secondly, the relationship between Appalachia and the prison system, and how this relationship is viewed in the context of the Internal Periphery theoretical model. Third, this paper’s goal is a proposition against the development of the upcoming Federal prison in Letcher County, Kentucky due to the economic, social, and environmental issues that perpetuate the inequality within Internal Periphery.
INTERNAL PERIPHERY AS A THEORETICAL MODEL OF APPALACHIA
In Internal Colony or Internal Periphery, Walls (1978) suggests utilizing a theoretical model that describes Appalachia in a Peripheral context, rather than one that suggests Appalachians as a colonized people. Internal Colonialism can be applied to Appalachia in the sense that the outside industrialists have historically established control and domination over the people within the internal colony (Walls, 1978.) For example, the process of development of the coal mines and timber companies initiated by outside interests and absentee ownership that exploited the land of the internal colony is a form of Internal Colonialism (Walls, 1978.) In fact, based on the Appalachian Land Ownership Study, a disproportionate amount of land is owned and operated by outside capitalists (Eller, 2008.) However, it does not fit Appalachians because there was a subordination of the lower class, rather than a subordination based on race. Secondly, the Internal Colonialism model does not capture the understanding of Appalachia as it applies to Africans enslaved and shipped to America, the genocide of Native Americans, and conquered Mexicans (Walls, 1978.) Thus, this paper will only refer to rural Appalachia in the context of the Internal Periphery as a theoretical model to understand the impact of rural prisons and a proposal against the Letcher County, Kentucky Federal Prison.
Subsequently, based on Immanuel Wallerstein’s Internal Periphery model, there is a three-tiered system (Core, Semi-Periphery or Intermediate, and Periphery) in advanced capitalist societies that reflects the sub regions of Appalachia (Couto, 2007; Walls, 1978.) Wallerstein described the capitalist system as global changes driven by the exploitation of Peripheral countries by Core countries through an international division of labor (Longhofer & Winchester, 2012.) While the Core is a strong state institution, Periphery are the providers of material and cheap sources of labor, and the Semi-periphery is manipulated by the Core’s interests, thus providing a stabilizing force in global struggle (Longhofer & Winchester, 2012.) In other words, Core countries like the United States extract labor and raw materials from Peripheral countries within Africa, while the Semi-periphery within China assemble those materials (Longhofer & Winchester, 2012.) Despite the interconnectedness of trade within the global market, Wallerstein says that capital only accumulates within the Core countries thus perpetuating inequalities towards the Periphery and Semi-Periphery (Longhofer & Winchester, 2012.) Walls (1978) describes the Semi-Periphery’s political-economic function as a low-wage productive industry for the Core’s capital investment. For instance, the United States pays low wages to workers in China that make cheap clothes, then the United States’ fashion industry profits from its consumers that pay a higher price than it took to make the clothes.
While theorists can ascribe the United States as a Core country, there is division of labor within the United States. Because this paper’s focus is on Appalachia with an emphasis on Kentucky, we cannot simply ascribe rural Appalachia and Kentucky as being part of the Core that is ascribed to the United States. In fact, Couto (2007) of Appalachia, says that Central Appalachia (Kentucky) is the Periphery or Outside region, while Northern and Southern Appalachia reflects the Semi-Periphery or Intermediate regions (Couto, 2007 & Walls, 1978.) In other words, the regions encapsulate their own economic wealth, but the Core and Semi-Periphery regions develop boundaries to creating an economic relationship, and so goods flow from the Semi-Periphery region to the Core region (Couto, 2007.) On the other hand, the Semi-Periphery and outside Periphery have a more rigid political friction and cultural conflict (Couto, 2007) when resources are going out of the region instead of being distributed to the outside Periphery region. In capitalism, when goods are cheap then too the wages of the workers, so there is exploitation of people and resources of the Semi-Periphery and Periphery regions while the Core region profits.
INTERNAL PERIPHERY WITHIN RURAL APPALACHIA’S PRISON SYSTEM
To understand the relationship of rural Appalachia and its prison system, one must recollect the Internal Periphery of the capitalist system discussed previously. Recounting the once booming coal industry of Appalachia that has been pulled apart over the years, is finding the economic system having devastating affects simultaneously (Maggard, 2007.) In fact from this shift within Appalachia, state governments are finding it hard to create jobs that are simultaneously a source of cheap labor for outsider companies (Maggard, 2007.) Thus, rural areas face hard choices to continue to build infrastructure by outside interests in order to create jobs within the region. One of those choices is building prisons. Because rural regions contain poor counties that need money, like Kentucky, they justify using the prison system as a way to create a jobs program (Richards, Austin, & Jones, 2004.) Also because rural areas seek to provide quick job opportunities on a large scale, prisons are one of the three leading economic enterprises in the region (Huling, 2002.)
According to Huling (2002), a prison opened in rural and small town communities every 15 days, equating to 245 prisons built between 1990 and 1999 within rural America. Before then, 36% of prisons were built in rural and small town communities (Huling, 2002.) Since then, the majority of new prisons are located in rural areas, due to the rise in the U.S. prison population which has forced prisons and prisoners to be located outside of non-metropolitan areas (i.e. in the most depressed rural areas) (Huling, 2002.) Creating more prisons is a way to alleviate the over-crowdedness of other prisons due to the 2.2 million people behind bars (Mazurek, 2016.) As of now, the potential Letcher County, Kentucky Federal prison will become the sixth federal prison in eastern Kentucky alone! (Mazurek, 2016.)
In Transforming Places: Lessons from Appalachia, the creation of jobs takes priority over other peoples’ lives, while there is simultaneously priority of job creation over the environment (Fisher & Smith, 2012.) Fisher and Smith (2012), state how the “‘development’ in rural Appalachian areas has at times taken form as prison complexes, which provide jobs to rural whites who facilitate the containment of incarcerated, disproportionately poor, disproportionately black and Latino men and women from distant urban areas” (p. 271.) Huling (2002) similarly states that prisons are a ‘growth industry’ in rural America at the expense of “using black bodies to sustain white rural economies” (p. 7.) This phenomenon reflects the Internal Periphery of Appalachia where the few economic solutions resort back to outside dominate corporate interests. These tactics of slavery veiled as growth and industry, as Huling (2002) and Fisher and Smith (2012) have suggested, hold priority over the social and environmental issues surrounding industrialization, specifically the social issues surrounding prisons which is further discussed below.
PROPOSITION AGAINST LETCHER CO., KY FEDERAL PRISON
Using the Internal Periphery theoretical model, the proposition against the Letcher County, Kentucky Federal Prison is further discussed here based on the economic, social, and environmental issues surrounding the development of the prison.
Appalachia is treated as the Periphery (outside) region that will house incarcerated people from the Core regions. It is a way to keep the Core regions purified of the ugliness of the world—and to keep the eyesore that is prisons and other cruel industries alike—out of the sight of the Core regions. Internal Periphery can account for the economic issues of the prison, much how coal companies, textile mills, the timber industry, and absentee landowners extracted the resources of the region, then sent the resources to wealthier areas, leaving little in return for taxes to go to education and public health within that region (Couto, 2007.) Consequently, $444 million tax dollars was allocated towards the Letcher County prison (Washington, 2016.) Tax money is still going to house incarcerated individuals, which means for every dollar going to the prison, is another dollar taken away from education (Hurling, 2002.) Indeed, between 1986 to 2013, states increased spending on K-12 education by 69% and higher education increased by 6%, while funding for corrections increased by 141% (Harris, 2016.)
There is a notion that we must be a society dependent on infrastructure for job creation. For instance, the persuading arguments for the development of the Letcher County Federal Prison is to create hundreds of jobs. But, in this context, it is symbolic of the dependency for work that simultaneously profits from caging people. Not only that, but previous research has confirmed that prisons do little to increase employment and/or make economic improvements to the region (Hurling, 2002; Washington, 2016.) The prediction that the Letcher Country prison will create hundreds of jobs may be naïve. For instance, a New York prison in 1999 predicted 750 jobs would be created, but it ended up only providing 100 jobs (Hurling, 2002.) Though even 100 prison positions or less would potentially be helpful to the area; this may take away jobs from other community members if the prison uses free or low wage labor on community work. For example, local governments and other organizations save money on work done by prison labor that pay little or no money, where they would have otherwise had to contract out workers at a higher wage (Hurling, 2002.) Thus, jobs for the community may be replaced or displaced by prison labor, which in turn negatively affects the local economy (Hurling, 2002.) Another aspect of the economic issues prisons will have on local businesses, is that businesses tend to avoid locating themselves near a prison, thus will leave the region—further affecting the local economy (Hurling, 2002.)
Although crime rates are down (Richards, Austin, & Jones, 2004), the prison population continues to grow due to the incarceration of nonviolent drug offenses (Fisher & Smith, 2012.) And while Kentucky’s crime rate is below the national average, its prison population is growing, and is suspected to continue to grow (Richards, Austin, & Jones, 2004.) This phenomenon is an economic and social issue because this means that Kentucky will continue to use tax dollars towards caging people instead of putting tax dollars towards long-lasting social programs that prevent the “Perpetual Prisoner Machine” as Richards, Austin, and Jones (2004) refers to Kentucky’s prison system. The prison system itself is not a reflection on the cruelty of people, and instead it is the reflection of a society that has failed women and men of education, employment, opportunity, and freedom.
Furthermore, prisons “have detrimental effects on the social fabric and environment of rural communities” (Hurling, p. 1, 2002) which will be further discussed in terms of perpetuating racism and poverty. What is typically not mentioned in the conversation on incarceration is that half of all people in prison are in for a nonviolent drug use or distribution. Others incarcerated are also affected by the militarization of police (or over-policing of urban areas) that is perpetuated by racist and classist laws. For instance, racial disparities are prevalent in the prison system (Cummings, 2012; De Giorgi, 2016; Erikson, 2014; Snyder, 2015; Ulmer, Painter-Davis, & Tinik, 2016; Ward et al., 2016; Welch, 2003.) This means social and racial control are encoded in drug laws (Cummings, 2012; Snyder, 2015; Ulmer, Painter-Davis, & Tinik, 2016; Welch, 2003.) Many activists, including Michelle Alexander have claimed the prison system to be the New Jim Crow (Mazurek, 2016.) Racial disparities in prison persists because the prison population does not reflect the United States population, where 37% and 22% of African American and Hispanic men make up the prison population (De Giorgi, 2016.) Young, Black men are 10 times more likely than White men to be in state or federal prison (De Giorgi, 2016.) Among the many social issues with prison, the very real and overarching factor is racism in law enforcement and the criminal justice system. The outcome of the population in prison means housing the most vulnerable and marginalized groups of people: the poor, low educated, addicted, and mentally ill people that need social programs not prison.
Along similar lines of racial disparity within the prisons, is the racism specifically in rural prisons that are prevalent of the White prison guards (Huling, 2002.) The racism purported by the White guards further distances themselves from prison guards of color, affecting the performance and solidarity of prison guards, and thus creating a corrosive work environment for everyone (Huling, 2002.) One example for instance was where the White guards would tie nooses around their key chains to symbolize lynching Black bodies thus promoting an association with the Klan (Hurling, 2002.)
In addition to the economic issues, racial injustice, and the social issues discussed so far, one other aspect of the devastating effects of prisons is a simultaneous increase of children in foster care. For instance, with the rise of drug use and parents caught using or selling drugs, more parents are behind bars—filling up federal and state prisons, thus social services found an increasing number of children in foster care (Fisher & Smith, 2012.) With that being said, the proposition against the Letcher County prison is also in part due to the environmental issues explored below.
Much opposition of the prison is because of the health hazard. The Bureau of Prisons plans to build the Letcher County prison on top of another former coal mine (Mazurek, 2016; Washington, 2016.) The Federal Bureau of Prisons did release an Environmental Impact Statement, however the “potential negative impact of the active surface and underground mine and coal slurry impoundment” were not addressed with regard to the health of prisoners and prison guards (Mazurek, 2016, p. 21.) Mazurek (2016) also states that the final report said there were no risks to health because there are no active coal mines on the proposed site, however, Mazurek found that there were two active mines, where one was located a half mile south of the site of the proposed prison, and one two miles north. Despite this, the fact that the region has some of the highest lung cancer rates and is linked to some of the highest coal production numbers is a cause for concern (Mazurek, 2016.) But according to Hurling (2002), prisons are not always required to conform to all of the environmental regulations and standards.
Moreover, even if the site is safe from health hazards from the previously existing coal mine that the prison is replacing, the construction of the Letcher County prison will potentially affect the ecosystem of the Lilly Cornett Woods, according to Mazurek (2016.) For instance, the prison after development will use copious amounts of water (some four million gallons of water daily), and be responsible for the raw sewage created by over a thousand prisoners, guards, and other staff members (Mazurek, 2016.) In addition, the heavy machinery used will affect the roads, while the development of the prison will cause noise pollution, and eventually call for flood lighting on the property (Mazurek, 2016.)
Likewise, the construction of the Letcher County Prison reminds activists of the horrible conditions of Rikers Island in New York City, which stands atop a landfill that continues to emit methane (Washington, 2016.) Additionally, Pennsylvania’s State Correctional Institution is amongst 40 million tons of coal waste dump (Washington, 2016.) This is typical for many prisons, but it goes unnoticed (Washington, 2016) because there isn’t concern for the health of people that are perceived to be doing wrong. The many examples of the strategic placement of prisons reflects how society values prisoner’s lives. Considering the placement of prisoners on waste sites, this is a metaphor for how the prisoners are viewed: as waste.
Appalachia as the Periphery refers to the region as the ‘outside’ being used to facilitate projects for the Core region. The paper highlights the Letcher County, Kentucky Federal Prison as the project which will cage 1,200 people from different surrounding regions. As discussed, the prison potentially can have long lasting economic, social, and environmental effects. For instance, the development of the Letcher County Federal prison potentially can have devastating effects on the economy of the region rather than stimulating job creation. The prison may also have environmental effects on the prisoners and guards due to the previous existence of the coal mine waste site which the prison will be replacing.
Additionally, the prison may reap social inequality considering those who are forced into the prison system are the most marginalized population. This means, those who enter prison need social programs, not prison, because the prison population is made up of addicted, poor, people with low levels of education and mental illness, which exacerbates these factors while in prison. And those that are disproportionately incarcerated are persons of color, meaning that the White population doing “crime” are those that are ignored by law enforcement, which perpetuates institutionalized racism. But these issues are of secondary concern when the Core regions benefit the most from exploitation of the Periphery’s people and the resources. The upcoming Letcher County Federal prison, Kentucky is not extracting resources to provide to the Core region, and instead the Core region is extracting their incarcerated peoples to house in the Periphery.
Although this paper proposes against the development of the Letcher County, Kentucky Federal Prison, this is not an invitation for any prisons to be developed. The goal should not to be to continually grow the infrastructure for prisons. Considering crime rates are at a low, and the majority of the prison population consists of drug use and distribution, and other nonviolent offenses, there is a need for a needs-based or risk-based social programs offered for free to the public. Prison is a cage in any form which drives people and animals to mental health issues. It is not humane to cage anyone or anything. But additionally, prison makes it harder to people to obtain a job later, and wears on the internal being of a person like stripping a person of their dignity into a shell.
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