Press Release on today's silent protest of SOAR innovation summit

June 6, 2016

Letcher Governance Project holds silent protest at SOAR Innovation Summit in opposition to proposed federal prison

Eric King – (606) 634-5896
Ada Smith – (606) 303-2677

Members of the Letcher Governance Project are holding a nonviolent silent protest this morning at the SOAR Innovation Summit in Pikeville, Ky. The group demands more creative and innovative solutions for eastern Kentucky’s economy than an additional federal prison.

The protest is part of the group’s #our444million social media campaign, which was launched after the announcement that $444 million in taxpayer dollars had been allocated for the development of a federal prison in Letcher County. The campaign aims to demonstrate that there are better economic solutions for the region than prisons, and $444 million would go a long way towards implementing those solutions.

The Letcher Governance Project is additionally concerned with the gradual increase of prisons in the central Appalachian region. Proposed USP Letcher will be the fourth prison that Congressman Hal Rogers has worked to bring to eastern Kentucky. The three previous examples – prisons in McCreary, Martin and Clay counties – have not significantly contributed to the economies of those communities. Two recently-opened prisons in nearby Wise County, Virginia, have also failed to deliver on early promises of jobs and economic benefits. The Letcher Governance Project points to these counties as proof that prisons do not boost rural economies.

The campaign and protest demonstrate that many people from the area oppose the prison, contrary to the statements of local officials, Congressman Hal Rogers, and the Bureau of Prisons. The Letcher Governance Project has submitted dozens of comments to the Bureau of Prisons citing social, economic and environmental concerns with the development process of proposed USP Letcher. However, Congressman Rogers and the Bureau of Prisons have consistently refused to acknowledge these concerns in public statements, despite the fact that many of them come from Congressman Rogers’ constituents.

The Letcher Governance Project is therefore protesting Congressman Hal Rogers’ presence at the SOAR Innovation Summit, and calls on the Congressman to consider other solutions to eastern Kentucky’s economy. In this time of economic transition, eastern Kentucky residents demand solutions that foster healing, improved working conditions, and better standards of living. Residents across the region have used the #our444million hashtag to envision what that kind of economy might look like, and we urge Congressman Rogers to acknowledge and act on those ideas.

Finally, the Letcher Governance Project wishes to express solidarity with groups working across the country to change the United States criminal justice system by stating unequivocally that black lives matter to eastern Kentuckians. This country overwhelmingly imprisons more people of color than white people, and we refuse to allow our local economies to be dependent on this form of racist exploitation.