Exploring the agrarian prisoner in California State Prisons

Authors: Aliza McHugh*,
Topics: Human-Environment Geography, United States, Qualitative Methods
Keywords: incarceration, agriculture, gardens, institutions, industry
Session Type: Interactive Short Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Today, prison labor exists throughout the country in many forms including manufacturing, food packaging, and agriculture. California has at least seven prisons operating with prison farms (or agriculturally related programs) as part of their industry programs and seven with prison gardens. Utilizing expert knowledge in conjunction with the work of professional personnel in the penal system and the experiences of the formerly incarcerated, this research seeks to examine the cross-sections of agriculture and the ‘natural’ as it relates to prisoners in the California prison system. In more specifics, through the ethnographic explorations of the experiences of those who participated in prison garden or farm programs—which have fundamental differences but may seek similar purposes—my research examines what the effect and motives behind these human and non-human nature relationships in prison are. The complex ties that these programs maintain to each other by virtue of entwining the carceral state with nature and agrarianism begs necessary questions of their innate differences as well. Who participates in each of the programs? What is gained and for what entity: individual, the penal system or statewide? To what degree are these programs to minimize ‘idleness’ and create productivity despite their different initiation points? The greater objective is to question what the aspect of agriculture and the act of growing in the spaces of incarceration have a purpose in today’s neoliberal era.

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