"Growing Chains": Prison Agriculture and Capitalism

Before there were prisons, there were plantations that held people captive andw enslaved. Before enslaved people freed themselves and then were emanicipated, the prison population was almost entirely white. After the Civil War, that was no longer the case as Black Codes and, later, Jim Crow laws ensured that the incarcerated populations would not be over-determined by white convicts. The link between agricultural slavery and prison populations working to maintain the prison is powerful and with ongoing consequences in the present.

"Growing Chains: Prison Agriculture and Racial Capitalism in the United States," an interactive story-map project developed by the Prison Agriculture Lab & Geospatial Centroid, Colorado State University, explores these historical and contemporary connections.

"This story map distills research from the first ever nationwide study of prison agriculture. The Prison Agriculture Lab scoured official reports, data sets, and internet archives, as well as communicated with state prisons, departments of correction, and prison industries to determine whether and where agricultural activities existed in 2019 or 2020."

The website is extensive, with reports, graphs, photographs, and links to other resources. It includes discussions of prison agriculture today, the drivers of racial capitalism, financial incentives for forced incarcerated labor, the claim of idleness reduction, and the relationships between agricultural work, labor training, and reparative gardening.

"The United States prison system is built on disciplining incarcerated people to the strictures of work. Agriculture is prominent in this regard. Nearly 2 million people, mainly poor and people of color, are behind bars in the US prison system, including 1,566 state prisons and 102 federal prisons. Given the resources required to house, feed, and control this many people and places, the state consistently turns to agriculture to jumpstart local economies, finance prisons, punish or rehabilitate prisoners, combat prisoner idleness, and create self-sufficient prisons."