Prisons and jails are everywhere. They're in your downtown area, they're off in far-flung places, deep in the countryside, and everywhere in between.
Often, we pass by them without taking much notice. But the massive physical infrastructure of the criminal justice system is a literal monument to the fact that the United States imprisons more people than any other country in the world.
To help us see these facilities in a fresh light, Fusion asked our friends at the Daily Overview, a website that uses aerial photography to give new perspectives on the effects of human activity, to help get us some shots of select jails and prisons from around the country. County, local and federal institutions are included.
Seen from above, these facilities are revealed for what they are: everyday landmarks to an overzealous justice system, enmeshed into nearly every American environment. The following is an attempt to describe these 12 jails and prisons as parts of the beautiful landscapes they now help define. Here it goes:
Capacity: 927 | Security: Supermax
This 37-acre complex is located about 100 miles south of Denver, on a narrow strip of grasslands that stretch eastward into Kansas. Flanked by the Sumo Golf Village and the Pike National forest to the north and the peaks of the San Isabel National Forest to the west, the facility lies just in sight of the Rocky Mountains.
Capacity: 2,900 | Security: Supermax
This facility lies amid a patch of vacant fields a mile away from Lake Livingston, one of the state's largest manmade lakes, built to supply water to the city of Houston. (Last month, heavy rains and an increase in water released from the dam contributed to floods that left at least 24 dead across the state.) Lake Livingston State Park sits about two miles south of the facility, where visitors can enjoy lakeside camping, fishing, and horseback riding.
Capacity: 2,382 in 8 housing units (not all pictured here) | Security: Maximum
About a half hour away from downtown Phoenix, the Perryville facility sits at the edge of irrigated civilization and the expansive, sparsely populated Sonoran desert, which stretches south into Mexico. Just north of the complex are the sharp peaks of the Skyline Regional Park and the White Tank Mountain Regional Park, which offer hiking and stargazing to visitors. The area contains several archaeological sites of significant note, some potentially dating back as far as 10,000 years ago.
Capacity: 1,150 | Security: Maximum
This facility is surrounded by some of the widest-open wilderness in the nation. It’s located inside of Nevada's White Pine County, which, despite encompassing a total area of nearly 9,000 square miles, barely had 10,000 residents during the last Census. To the east of the facility lies Heusser Mountain, which is both a popular hiking destination, and which has long been used for mining, a major local trade. To the west is Jones Canyon (seen cutting a diagonal line across the top left of the photo), which separates White Pine County from the Egan Mountain Range.
Capacity: ~1,000 | Security: Low
In the midst of suburban sprawl about 30 miles south of downtown Miami, this low-security federal prison (the complex of orange-topped roofs on the upper part of the image) sits just across a major thoroughfare from gated apartment complexes and a short stroll from the city's zoo. When it first opened in 1976, the prison had an unobstructed view of the Florida Everglades, the "largest subtropical wilderness in the United States," according to the National Park Service. Today, the Everglades begin about eight miles east of the facility.
Capacity: 990 | Security: All levels
In one afternoon, a visitor to downtown Houston could pay a federal inmate a visit in this facility (circled in white above), then watch a Houston Astros game at Minute Maid Park just a few short blocks away. Other government offices surround the building, including everything from a Post Office to the Harris County Department of Human Resources.
Capacity: 2,276 | Security: Low
Driving on Interstate 20 or Interstate 45 near Dallas, you can catch a view of Hutchins Jail, located at the intersection of the major highways in north-central Texas. The Trinity River runs just north of the jail. Its flow ultimately runs into Lake Livingston a few hundred miles downstream, the site of the Allan B. Polunsky Unit, another Texas state prison in West Livingston, mentioned above.
Capacity: 192 | Security: Low
On the east side of Las Vegas, this juvenile institution, which houses prisoners between the ages of 8 and 18, sits squarely in between the Desert Pines Golf Club and the Freedom Park baseball facility. Other governmental buildings like the Clark County District Attorney's Office and the Clark County Juvenile Justice center also share the complex.
Capacity: 15,000 | Security: All levels
Sitting in New York City's East River, the Rikers Island complex is adjacent to LaGuardia Airport in the borough of Queens, though it remains technically a part of the Bronx. During the Civil War, the island was used to train Union soldiers, especially black troops. From the island, visitors can catch glimpses of the Bronx, Queens, and parts of Upper Manhattan, while the steady water flows.
Capacity: 976 | Security: Low
This facility operates on the mostly-artificial Terminal Island, which straddles the Port of Los Angeles and the Port of Long Beach. Before it was built up by modern engineering, the previous, smaller island was known as La Isla Raza la Buena Gente, or the "island of people of the good race." It was later known as Rattlesnake Island until it adopted its current name in 1891. Most of the island is still dedicated to helping run the ports, which together form two of the top five busiest ports (by value) in the nation.
Capacity: 1,600 | Security: Maximum
This Illinois facility rests on the eastern bank of the Mississippi River on about 146 acres of pristine land. The entire facility has been empty for years now, though President Obama once hoped that it would be the new home for Guantanamo detainees. In 2012, the Federal Bureau of Prisons purchased the property, though nothing has come of it.
"The state of Illinois constructed it and then couldn’t seem to find the funding to activate it. So there were a lot of local business, not just in Thomson but in the entire surrounding area, that had invested in properties or constructed buildings in anticipation of the uptake in population and visitors to our area. And when that didn’t happen, they were very badly affected,” Thomson Village President Vicky Trager told a prison watchdog publication earlier this year.
Capacity: 2,984 | Security: Minimum/medium
Surrounded by almond groves about 140 miles northwest of Los Angeles, the 634-acre Wasco State Prison Reception-Center is situated in the heart of the San Joaquin Valley, one of the nation's most historically productive agricultural regions. Its reported population in 2012 was 4,971 inmates, or 166.6% of capacity. It's located about 100 miles from Sequoia National Forest, home of the largest concentration of sequoia trees in the world. Currently, the San Joaquin Valley is in the throes of one of the worst droughts in its long history.
All images courtesy of the Daily Overview
Daniel Rivero is a producer/reporter for Fusion who focuses on police and justice issues. He also skateboards, does a bunch of arts related things on his off time, and likes Cuban coffee.