American Prison: A Reporter’s Undercover Journey into the Business of Punishment

Shane Bauer. Penguin Press, $28 (368p) ISBN 978-0-7352-2358-5
Deprivation, abuse, and fear oppress inmates and guards alike in this hard-hitting exposé of the for-profit prison industry. Mother Jones reporter Bauer, who wrote about being imprisoned in Iran for two years in A Sliver of Light, hired on as a guard in 2014 at Louisiana’s Winn Correctional Center, a private prison run by Corrections Corporation of America (now CoreCivic). Equipped with a hidden camera and recorder, he found a snake pit of exploited labor and substandard correctional services. Bauer and his fellow guards were understaffed (sometimes three guards for a 352-prisoner unit), paid $9 an hour, poorly trained, and afraid of inmates; prison management veered between chaotic laxness and brutal crackdowns. With a $34-per-day-per-inmate budget, the prison axed educational and recreational programs and fatally skimped on health care (one inmate Bauer met lost both legs after officials failed to hospitalize him for an infection; another hanged himself after his suicide threats were ignored). Bauer vividly depicts Winn’s poisonous culture as he finds himself succumbing to its mind-set of paranoid authoritarianism (“Striving to treat everyone as human takes too much energy. More and more I focus on proving I won’t back down”). In addition, he sets his reportage in the context of a history of for-profit incarceration in the South that is rife with racism and torture. The result is a gripping indictment of a bad business. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 06/18/2018
Release date: 09/18/2018
Genre: Nonfiction
Ebook - 978-0-7352-2359-2
Compact Disc - 978-0-525-52877-7
Library Binding - 549 pages - 978-1-4328-6000-4
Paperback - 368 pages - 978-0-7352-2360-8
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Audio book sample courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio
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