Sustainable Spaces, Sustained Mass Incarceration: Environmental Protection as Racial Violence in the Design of Juvenile Incarceration


  • Akhila L. Ananth



Though scholars of racial capitalism have separately analyzed mass incarceration and environmental racism as state-sanctioned racial violence, few have put these two seemingly disparate topics of study in direct conversation. Yet tracking “sustainability” in the designs of an environmentally friendly juvenile detention facility reveals that state-subsidized corporate mechanisms of environmental protection are fundamental to racialized mass incarceration in the United States. In the Alameda County Juvenile Justice Center in San Leandro, California, building designers constructed a juvenile court, social services center, and jail that all met the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold Standard for sustainable construction practices put forth by the US Green Building Council. In this carceral space, however, the ideals of sustainable building design obfuscate the role of racial capitalism in sustaining the punitive regulation of Black and other nonwhite youth through incarceration.