Hastings Environmental Law Journal


Robert Pistone


As climate change continues to threaten human life on Earth, greenhouse gas emissions are causing more frequent record-setting temperatures and natural disasters. If the current United States prison system does not take steps to address how climate change is affecting the quality of life of its inmates, then imprisonment will be considered cruel and unusual punishment in the near future. In fact, in light of climate change, there is a strong argument that the current treatment of prisoners is already cruel and unusual punishment when other factors are taken into account. This paper focuses on the standards of what conditions qualify as cruel and unusual punishment, the effect that climate change has had and is projected to have on prisoners in relation to cruel and unusual punishment, and what changes should be made to prison infrastructure to solve the issue. The effects which will be discussed include how climate change does and will impact the following: the living conditions of prisoners, the working conditions of prisoners, and the effect that more frequent natural disasters will have on the prisoners and their wellbeing. This paper will also discuss what should be done to avoid violation of the Eighth Amendment, the likelihood that changes will be made willingly based on current proposed climate legislation, and if not, what the likelihood is that there will be court intervention to force changes to be made to prison administration and infrastructure.