New Book Called ‘Horrifying Expose’ of U.S. Private Prisons

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Journalist Shane Bauer of Mother Jones has turned his reporting on a private prison into a book, “American Prison.” NPR calls it “both the remarkable story of a journalist who spent four months working as a corrections officer, and a horrifying exposé of how prisoners were treated by a corporation that profited from them.” In 2014, Bauer applied for a job with the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), which has rebranded itself as CoreCivic. The second-biggest U.S. private prison company operates nearly 100 correctional facilities. In his training program at Winn Correctional Centerin Louisiana, an instructor tells cadets not to bother trying to break up a fight between prisoners, because the guards aren’t getting paid enough for that: “So if them fools want to cut each other, well, happy cutting.” Bauer showed up for work armed with a hidden camera and audio recorder. He says prison companies have no interest in trying to rehabilitate the incarcerated, or even treat them like real people. One assistant warden says he wants inmates “to feel like a herd of cattle.”

Bauer intersperses  chapters about his time at Winn with ones chronicling the history of convict servitude and private prisons. Based on his first-hand experience and conversations with inmates and guards, “he paints a damning picture of prisoner mistreatment and under-staffing at the prison, where morale among the incarcerated and the employees was poor,” NPR says. “The stories he tells are deeply sad and consistently infuriating.” Bauer is himself a former prisoner; he was one of three hikers arrested in 2009 by border guards in Iran, where he spent more than two years in jail. Bauer urges his readers to consider the human costs of our broken prison system, which he calls “surely a national disaster.”

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