California’s Adult State Prisons, in Pictures

When it comes to California's prisons, Josh Begley makes a big statement with simple visuals.

By Hatty Lee, Jamilah King Mar 04, 2011

It’s easy for most people not to think about prisons. Unless they’re home to someone you know or love, the massive structures built to house the world’s largest collection of inmates go relatively unnoticed in the average person’s day-to-day life., a collection of photos of each of California’s 38 adult prisons, works to change that.

The project was put together by Josh Begley, who’s got a penchant for making big statements with simple visuals (See: RaceBox). "Having grown up in California, it’s astonishing how much I haven’t had to think about prisons," Begley, who grew up five minutes away from San Quentin, wrote in an email about his motivation for the project. "I thought there could be something powerful about focusing mainly on maps and images."

Each image is taken directly from the California Department of Corrections website, a fact that, admittedly, doesn’t sit well with Begley. "The fact that I used these soaring (if grotesque) helicopter shots reinforces the idea that prisons are first and foremost buildings," he wrote to Colorlines, citing USC geographer Ruthie Gilmore’s analysis of prisons as a set of relationships, not just buildings. "As it stands, everything is far away, impersonal." The project may still be evolving, but its beginning phases are powerful. Take a look at some of the photos below, and go see the entire thing online. Have more ideas for it? Leave them in the comments. 

Salinas Valley State Prison (Soledad, CA)

Pelican Bay State Prison (Crescent City, CA)

North Kern State Prison  (Delano, CA)

Valley State Prison for Women (Chowchilla, CA)

Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility (San Diego, CA)