The 1,600 people incarcerated at the Pelican Bay State Prison in northern California were forced to breathe heavily polluted air as wildfire smoke in the region infiltrated their living quarters, the AP reports. The dozens of fires around the prison just south of the Oregon border also cut off electricity to the prison, which has some generator backup, forcing hot meals to be discontinued for a time.
The maximum security complex was never in physical danger from the fires, officials say, but even over the phone, Terri Thompson Jackson could tell something was wrong with her husband Jeffrey. “I said, ‘Do you need to get a COVID test?’ He said, ‘No it’s these wildfires. It’s terrible,’” she said.
People “in a cage, unable to move, unable to pick up and flee” while being forced to breathe in wildfire smoke borders on inhumane, said Chesa Boudin, Executive Director of the Criminal Law & Justice Center at UC-Berkeley Law School. The failures are also indicative of the broader, disproportionate climate harms, including extreme heat, borne by incarcerated people. “We have seen climate-related, and certainly fire-related, impacts on jails and prisons across the globe with an increasing level and severity as climate change has picked up pace,” Boudin said. (AP)