Date of Award

January 2019

Degree Type

Open Access Thesis

Document Type

Master Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Justice Studies

First Advisor

Judah Schept

Department Affiliation

Justice Studies

Second Advisor

Victoria E. Collins

Department Affiliation

Justice Studies

Third Advisor

William McClanahan

Department Affiliation

Justice Studies


Since 1991, 14 state and federal prisons have been built in Appalachia with a recent proposal for a federal prison to be constructed in Letcher County, KY. Contradicting the narrative that Appalachia remains separated from the national economy, the ills of carceral growth are apparent throughout the region. This study examines the proposal to build a federal prison in Letcher County, KY. The purpose of this study is to gain further insight into the impact that the carceral state, including its promise of economic development, has on environmental harm and land exploitation in the region. The proposed federal prison would be built upon a former mountaintop removal site. This raises serious questions about the health impacts for incarcerated persons and prison employees, as well as environmental harm including the pollution of drinking water and the conservation of old growth forest nearby. The current relationship between carceral growth, economic development, and land exploitation cannot be fully discussed without accounting for the history of resource exploitation in the region. The continuation of this pattern relies on narratives that the carceral state is a viable form of economic growth. With other opportunities for economic growth, it is imperative to explore reasons for constructing a federal prison in Letcher County, KY and its potential impacts on the local economy and environment.