Examining PM2.5 concentrations in counties with and without state-run correctional facilities in Texas

Published date01 January 2024
AuthorKristina Block
Date01 January 2024
Subject MatterArticles
Examining PM
concentrations in counties
with and without state-run
correctional facilities in
Kristina Block
Sam Houston State University, USA
A high percentage of people who are incarcerated suffer from health problems that
affect them both in prison and after they are released. Environmental hazards and pol-
lutants can exacerbate these problems as well as contribute to the development of new
health conditions. One specif‌ic type of pollutant that is associated with a wide array of
health problems including decreased lung function, cancer, and asthma is particulate mat-
ter smaller than 2.5 µm (PM
). While prior research indicates that PM
is not equally
distributed throughout space, it remains unknown if levels of PM
differ in areas with
and without correctional facilities. The current study aims to address this gap by exam-
ining if counties with state-run correctional facilities have higher concentrations of PM
relative to counties without state-run correctional facilities in Texas. Results of OLS
regression models indicate that counties with one or more state-run correctional facil-
ities have higher concentrations of PM
relative to counties without these facilities.
These f‌indings highlight the importance of improving prison healthcare and addressing
issues of environmental injustice in correctional facilities.
environmental justice, green criminology, corrections, pollution
Corresponding author:
Kristina Block, Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology,Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, TX,
Email: knb083@SHSU.edu
Punishment & Society
2024, Vol. 26(1) 3252
© The Author(s) 2023
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/14624745231178906
People who are incarcerated have poorer health, on average, than people in the general
population (Butler et al., 2004; Fazel and Baillargeon, 2011). Individuals incarcerated
in United States (U.S.) jails and prisons have been found to be more likely to suffer
from hypertension, asthma, arthritis, cervical cancer, and hepatitis compared to adults
in the U.S. general population (Binswanger et al., 2009). While incarcerated individuals
might enter prison with preexisting conditions, they also have a higher risk of developing
new health conditions in prison relative to people in the community (Wildeman and
Wang, 2017). Incarcerated individuals rated their overall health more poorly than
people in the general population (Butler et al., 2004). In addition, older incarcerated
people are more likely to have a disease or infection than both younger incarcerated
people and older people in the general population (Fazel et al., 2001; Maruschak et al.,
2015). This is of particular concern as the average age of people incarcerated in the
U.S. has increased substantially over the last 30 years (Carson and Sabol, 2016).
According to the United States Bureau of Justice Statistics, about 40% of people in
state and federal prisons and jails of all ages reported having a current chronic medical
condition (Maruschak et al., 2015), which is similar to that of the general public
(Raghupathi and Raghupathi, 2018). Despite these comparable f‌igures, incarcerated indi-
viduals have access to lower-quality healthcare than people who are not incarcerated and
often are not granted access to the medications or treatment they need (Prost et al., 2021;
Ross, 2012; Vaughn and Carroll, 1998), which makes living with these health conditions
diff‌icult and painful. Health problems can also make it diff‌icult for formerly incarcerated
people to successfully re-enter society (Link et al., 2019). There are several aspects of
conf‌inement that can exacerbate existing health conditions for people in prison including
being offered poor diets that are not up to nutritional standards in either quality or quan-
tity (Brisman, 2008; Holliday and Richardson, 2021) and exposure to environmental
toxins (Pellow, 2021). There have been accounts of U.S. prisons having contaminated
water, being infested with insects and rodents, and being located on or near superfund
sites or other toxic dumping sites (Bradshaw, 2018; Leon-Corwin et al., 2020).
One specif‌ic type of environmental toxin that can worsen existing health conditions
and even contribute to the development of new conditions is particulate matter smaller
than 2.5 micrometers (PM
) (Barja, 2004; U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,
2021; Xing et al., 2016). PM
consists of tiny, but dangerous particles in the air and
is linked to several detrimental health conditions including asthma, cancer, upper respira-
tory problems, and death. Over 99% of the worlds population is exposed to unhealthy
levels of PM
(Yu et al., 2023). More shockingly, prior research has indicated that
is not equally distributed in space and tends to be higher, and most dangerous
in disadvantaged communities (Colmer et al., 2020; Tessum et al., 2021). Yet, at
present, it is unknown if PM
is higher in areas with prisons relative to areas without
prisons. Prisons are often located in areas characterized by low socioeconomic status
and disadvantage, and thus it is hypothesized that concentrations of PM
are higher
in geographical areas with correctional facilities relative to geographical areas without
correctional facilities (Eason, 2010). The current study begins to address this line of
Block 33

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