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UofL Green Scene: Environmental crime - Why don't those folks ever go to jail?

by Terry Edwards, associate professor, justice administration, Southern Police Institute last modified Sep 01, 2010 09:44 AM

(Editor's Note: Green Scene is a monthly column on sustainable activities written by the faculty, staff or students responsible for them. Edwards teaches a course titled "Environmental Crime," has published on the topic and has served on environmental crime committees.)

UofL Green Scene: Environmental crime - Why don't those folks ever go to jail?

©iStockphoto.com/intst

"In America today,  you can murder the land for private profit, leave the corpse for all to see, and nobody calls the cops." (Paul Brooks, conservationist, 1971)                       

Love Canal. Maxey Flats. Bhopal. Chernobyl. Exxon Valdez.

These historical "lightning rod" environmental disasters drew both national and international headlines for months, sometimes years. Each event pushed the public's interest in the environment to new heights — everyone wanted to save the whales and hug a tree. The inevitable front page photos of dead and dying sparrows and sea lions, coupled with videos of rivers and beaches littered with "belly up" fish, sparked considerably discussion, debate and anger.

Eventually, the coffee shop talk turned to disappointment and rage in that "No one ever goes to jail for these things!" Then — almost as quickly as it began, the photos disappeared, the talk subsided and it was back to "business as usual" in terms of the public's interest in environmental crime.

Now, enter the BP gulf oil incident. Again, the headlines cry for justice, the papers are full of pictures of oil-soaked pelicans and once again, the coffee shop discussions center on why no one ever goes to jail for environmental crime.

Well, quite simply put, those responsible for environmental crime at the "galactic level" do go to jail!

In June 2010, an Indian court sentenced seven people to two years in prison, including the chair of Union Carbide-India, for the Bhopal incident. In this country, at the federal level, approximately 80 percent of criminal convictions for environmental crimes involved corporate defendants — 50 percent of those convicted are sentenced to jail or prison — and 85 percent of those sentenced to incarceration actually serve time. It happens!

Unfortunately, those responsible for "ordinary" environmental crime (if there is such an event) often don't go to jail — and that is simply a fact. Those responsible for "murdering the land for private profit" at the local level often escape detection all together. This is where the public, especially grassroots environmentalists, can stop questioning why folks don't go to jail and help put a few offenders in jail.

How? Simple. Report the "environmental murder" in your neighborhood. When you discover an "environmental corpse," don't step over it, report it — it's that simple. 

Before environmental offenders can be sentenced to jail, they must be prosecuted. Before they can be prosecuted, their crimes must be investigated. Before any crime can be investigated, it must be detected. And before those responsible for investigating environmental crime can conduct a thorough investigation, they must be made aware that "a body has been found," if you will.

Let someone know you've "found a body" in your neighborhood — they will take it from there. That's what they get paid to do. Unless and until those strange leaks, new stains on the street, stacks of tires, unusual smells, dead animals, colorful fumes, midnight noises and/or mounds of litter are reported, then the chances of an "ordinary" environmental crime being detected and/or investigated is actually very small. And, if environmental crimes are never reported, then, yes, no one will go to jail.

There are dozens of federal, state and local investigative agencies in Louisville and Kentucky that are charged with the investigation and prosecution of environmental crime.

Due to the multi-jurisdictional nature of these crimes, a Kentucky Environmental Crime Task Force (a collection of federal, state and local agencies) has been created — a sort of "one stop" shopping for investigating suspicious activity. Rather than listing the contact information for the plethora of different "enviro-cops," I would suggest that you simply call the task force (502-582-5833) or City Call (311). Hopefully, they will see to it that your report/information finds its way to the proper investigative agency. It really can't be much easier than that.

So, quit stepping over the body then complaining that no one ever goes to jail for the murder. Report what you see out there on your evening walks, bicycle outings or weekend trips — it's that simple.

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