Greening the Cage: Green Racial Capitalism, Carceral Logics, and Moments of Resistance in the (Un)Sustainable Prison Garden

Authors: Evan Hazelett*, Harvard University
Topics: Geographic Theory, Cultural and Political Ecology, Food Systems
Keywords: prison gardens, prison greening, prison sustainability, green racial capitalism, carceral geography, socioecological fix, carceral food justice, sustainability capital, symbolic capital
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/11/2021
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:15 AM
Room: Virtual 18
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Gardening has long found its way into the American prison, but, in recent years, prison garden programs have achieved an unusual measure of popularity. In the perpetual reform of the penitentiary, this represents a programmatic turn in carceral administration back toward the “rehabilitation” of incarcerated people, the garden expected to “transform” them to reduce recidivism rates. This turn coincides with the rise of prison greening and sustainability initiatives, which are symbolically and politically linked to urban greening and sustainability. These moves present many contradictory implications which place the prison garden squarely within a dialectical process of exploitation and resistance. On the one hand, the sustainable prison garden is permeated and limited by the logics of green racial capitalism: racialized accumulation by sustainability capital; a socioecological fix, which provides institutional legitimation through symbolic capital and justification for racist recidivism narratives; the depoliticization of carceral violence by the prison/urban greening alliance; and nefarious forms of carceral discipline and control. At the same time, prison gardens present radical possibilities through moments of resistance by: facilitating the survival and humanization of incarcerated people; incorporating tenets of a critical pedagogy; and developing carceral food justice practice. Given that this is an under-researched topic, I attempted to explore a breadth of possibilities and limitations in depth, opening up theoretical and empirical insights to inform future research endeavors. To this end, I draw insights from scholarship on urban political ecology, racial capitalism, carceral geography, critical education studies, and food justice.

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