American Prison : A Reporter's Undercover Journey into the Business of Punishment
by Bauer, Shane

"A ground-breaking and brave inside reckoning with the nexus of prison and profit in America: in one Louisiana prison and over the course of our country's history. IIn 2014, Shane Bauer was hired for $9 an hour to work as an entry-level prison guard at aprivate prison in Winnfield, Louisiana. An award-winning investigative journalist, he used his real name; there was no meaningful background check. Four months later, his employment came to an abrupt end. But he had seen enough, and in short order he wrote an expose about his experiences that won a National Magazine Award and became the most-read feature in the history of the magazine Mother Jones. Still, there was much more that he needed to say. In American Prison, Bauer weaves a much deeper reckoning with his experiences together with a thoroughly researched history of for-profit prisons in America from their origins in the decades before the Civil War. For, as he soon realized, we can't understand the cruelty of our current system and its place in the larger story of mass incarceration without understanding where it came from. Private prisons became entrenched in the South as part of a systemic effort to keep the African-American labor force in place in the aftermath of slavery, and the echoes of these shameful origins are with us still"-

Shane Bauer is a senior reporter for Mother Jones. He is the recipient of the National Magazine Award for Best Reporting, Harvard's Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting, Atlantic Media's Michael Kelly Award, the Hillman Prize for Magazine Journalism, and at least 20 others. Bauer is the co-author, along with Sarah Shourd and Joshua Fattal, of a memoir, A Sliver of Light, which details his time spent as a prisoner in Iran.

Bauer's amazing book examines one of slavery's toxic legacies, using convicted people to make profit, through a dual approach. The first is historical, tracing southern states' exploitation of the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery and forced labor "except as punishment for a crime." Convicts could be legally forced to labor, and a variety of sadistic tortures increased their productivity significantly over "free" labor. This loophole incentivized the incarceration of large numbers of mostly African American people. Convict labor leasing created much infrastructure in the South, popularized the chain gang, and often led to convicts' deaths. Bauer's second approach details his personal account of the four months in 2014-15 during which he worked as a correctional officer in a Louisiana prison, earning $9 per hour, for the Corrections Corporation of America. Frustrated with the lack of transparency and accountability in the for-profit prison industry, Bauer went undercover in hope of obtaining accurate information. Bauer also examines his own motivations, ethics, and behavior during this period and does not spare himself. In short, he observes an acutely dangerous and out-of-control environment created by CCA's profit-driven underpaying of staff and understaffing of prisons. Bauer's historical and journalistic work should be required reading. Copyright 2018 Booklist Reviews.

A penetrating exposé on the cruelty and mind-bending corruption of privately run prisons across the United States, with a focus on the Winn facility in Louisiana. That prison was operated by the Corrections Corporation of America, but after a shorter version of this book appeared in Mother Jones, the company rebranded as CoreCivic and lost the Winn contract with the government. Bauer (co-author: A Sliver of Light: Three Americans Imprisoned in Iran, 2014), who has won the National Magazine Award in addition to many others, spent four months inside the prison as a corrections officer, carrying out an undercover journalism assignment to find the truth behind CCA's documented record of lies about its practices. At least 8 percent of inmates in state prisons must adjust to the practices of laxly regulated private companies rather than those in government-run facilities. At Winn, correctional officers (a term they prefer to "guard") risk their safety every day for $9 per hour . Bauer determined that the guards, most of them unarmed, were outnumbered by the inmates by a ratio as high as 200 to 1. The author had also viewed prison from a different perspective, having been incarcerated for two years in Tehran's notorious Evin Prison because he had unwittingly crossed a border while hiking as a tourist. Despite the awful conditions in his Iranian cell, Bauer found many of the conditions in Louisiana to be even worse. Nearly every page of this tale contains examples of shocking inhumanity. During his four months at Winn, Bauer also noticed a cruelty streak developing in his own character; even some of the inmates told Bauer that he was changing, and not for the better. Interspersed with the chapters about Winn, Bauer includes historical context—e.g., after the end of the Civil War, states continued slavery by a different name, forcing prisoners to pick cotton and perform other grueling tasks that produced income for prison administrations. A pot e nt, necessary broadside against incarceration in the U.S., which "imprisons a higher portion of its population than any country in the world." Copyright Kirkus 2018 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

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