Poisonous Prisons: Water Injustice in California’s Central Valley

Authors: Serena Hertel*, Pitzer College
Topics: Human-Environment Geography, Agricultural Geography, Hazards and Vulnerability
Keywords: carceral geography, spatial justice, prisons, water, environmental justice, abolition
Session Type: Poster
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:45 PM
Room: Lincoln 2, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


While the Central Valley is the one of the most fundamental sources of agricultural products in the United States and a primary source for many non-tropical crops, it is also home to what is pejoratively referred to as "Prison Alley." Exploring the impacts of prisons on water consumption in the Central Valley, a region already notorious for high volume water consumption, will contribute to a growing narrative exploring the various mechanisms by which prisons perpetuate unjust environmental practices.

Many prisons throughout the Central Valley are sited in regions already vulnerable to contamination and water vulnerability, by the nature of their conception and location near industrial agriculture. This case study of two water supply infrastructures in four different prisons will reveal the difficult nature of accounting for prison water consumption; the lack of accountability is reinforced by prolonged instances of internal contamination, which will also be discussed. Inherently, this project will address the lack of accessible water quality data that monitors what is consumed inside of prisons.

My study compares water consumption and quality in four prisons throughout the Central Valley, based on whether their water supply is sourced from the public supply or private deep wells. It aims to contribute to a framework for discussing the impacts of the prison industry as a double-edged sword that subjects both the people incarcerated inside and the communities living outside to unnecessary environmental hazards.

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