text and photographs by Josef Jacques
Prisons invading California
The United States imprisons nearly 2.2 million people; we have the largest incarcerated population in the world. If California were a country, it would have the world’s fourth highest incarceration rate. A study from The Hamilton Project recently noted that in 2010 the United States spent $80 billion at the federal, state, and local levels to keep people incarcerated. In 2015 at the state level alone, California spent $10.7 billion on corrections and rehabilitation.
At any given time, roughly 240,000 people are incarcerated within California’s borders. Around 160,000 of these have been confined in long-term imprisonment. In addition to nearly 6,000 state prisoners housed in Arizona and Mississippi, on proper California soil there are 35 adult and 4 juvenile state prisons; 10 federal prisons; 6 US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers; 18 private detention centers run by the Tennessee-based Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the Florida-based GEO Group; and 124 county jails. Each of California’s fifty-eight counties also runs its own juvenile hall.
These places of imprisonment are scattered throughout the state with a large concentration in the great Central Valley. Many are clustered menacingly along the spine of the San Andreas fault in a region pejoratively called “prison alley.”
This series of photographs illustrates both the scale and the vast strangeness of California’s Prison Industrial Complex. The prisons are photographed at night from a distance so that the lights from the prison illuminate the landscape. The light that controls the prison population stands as an indicator of state control. The visual effect references the images from the test sites of nuclear bombs, an enormous display of technocratic power reflecting a truly destructive invasion into otherwise peaceful pastoral settings.