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

4.23  ·  Rating details ·  2,864 ratings  ·  459 reviews
A groundbreaking 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.

In 2014, Shane Bauer was hired for $9 an hour to work as an entry-level prison guard at a private prison in Winnfield, Louisiana. An award-winning investigative journalist, he used his real name; there was no meani
Hardcover, 318 pages
Published September 18th 2018 by Penguin Press
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4.23  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,864 ratings  ·  459 reviews

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Apr 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
If you know that 22% of the world's prisoners are in American prisons, even though Americans comprise just 4.4% of the population, you might have wondered why that is. Is it because Americans are more likely to be criminals? Is the American justice system harsher than that in other countries? If so, why? If you've wondered these things and thought that perhaps money has something to do with it -- this is the capitalist capitol of the world after all -- you would be on the right track.

Shane Bauer
Mar 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audio
I have to stop reading books like this.

I was unaware that some prisons are privately operated for profit. Seriously?! How could anyone fail to see the glaring conflict there? If every prisoner is putting money in someone’s pocket, where is the incentive to rehabilitate? In 2018, CEO of Corrections Corporation of America, which ran the facility featured in this book, made 4 MILLION dollars (cited as being 20x the salary of the Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons)! Correction officers at th
Jillian Doherty
Feb 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
American Prison is an eye-opening exploration of a deeply broken system.
Revealing not only a look at the inside workings of our prison systems, but also facility issues; Mr. Bauer went undercover as a corrections officer within a Louisiana prison. This perspective is complicated by his experiences serving time himself.

The book is also a fascinating look back at the history and development of our penal system – reflecting on how slavery transition aided national funding through a corrupt program,
Jan 17, 2019 rated it liked it

Another one of the NY Times Top 10 of 2018, Bauer's account of working in a private prison is quite insightful, especially when delving into the post-slavery use of prison labour in the American South. That said, I found the details provided were at times too much, unessential, taking away from the larger point Bauer was trying to make. It's an important story, but not necessarily that novel in its conclusions and insights. The private incarceration system is a great moral scar that the Unite
Aug 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
Bauer took a brave step by becoming a prison guard to experience first-hand what it is like inside of America's privately run prisons. He chose to become a prison guard at a CCA-run private prison in the small town of Winn, Louisiana. He works there for a few months, and witnesses daily instances of violence, abuse, and general unruliness that amount to complete chaos. As the prison unravels, Bauer does as well, and begins to become paranoid, constantly overthinking and questioning his actions.

Mar 23, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: sociology
It begs the question, why work as a prison guard under such dangerous conditions for $9 an hour, when you could just as soon work at McDonalds?

Journalist Shane Bauer goes undercover as a prison guard in a privatized prison in Louisiana where they pay $9 an hour to just about anybody "breathing."

Bauer only worked here 4 months and simply recounts this very limited experience, alternating with a boring history of the penitentiaries in this country. Bauer's main argument is on the vested interest
♥ Sandi ❣
4 stars

A prison in Louisiana, a journalist undercover. This combination makes for a compelling read.

This book takes you on a 4 month journey into a privately run for-profit prison, not state or federally run, but one ran by a private corporation. Wages are low, staff is almost non-existent, rules and polices are either not followed or are taken to extreme. Walmart pays more than the starting wage for a guard that works 12 hr days, under the most dubious of circumstances. But unlike Walmart, dan
Sep 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
Bauer's book has convinced me that private prisons have an awful legacy and are operated poorly because they are operated with en eye to saving every possible cent for profit rather than to make the prison better. He alternates between history of private prisons in general and his experience working for a CCA prison in Louisiana, painting a picture of greed, continuation of slavery, abuse, and neglect over nearly two centuries. In the context of the current prison strike, this story is glaringly ...more
Loring Wirbel
Dec 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
Despite the heavy accolades for this book and my interest in the subject matter, I was tempted in the first 50 pages to give the book a mere three stars for two reasons. First, the concept of a journalist going undercover to work a story has always struck me as problematic in some senses. Second, Bauer's diary-like recounting of daily life as a corrections officer in a private prison is a tough read. Yes, of course it's supposed to be tough, but the grimness of the subject matter made it difficu ...more
David Quijano
Feb 17, 2019 rated it liked it
I first saw ‘American Prison’ by Shane Bauer on the NY Times Top 10 of 2018 list. I put all ten books on my to-read list, assuming the New York Times would only recommend exceptional books. My assumption was bolstered by the fact that its Goodreads rating was 4.25, which I would consider exceptionally high. It’s the type of rating you would expect from a flawless book. Unfortunately, ‘American Prison,’ much like the American prison system, suffers from some serious flaws.

In 2014, Shane Bauer, ap
Kati Garness
Feb 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A glimpse into the grim reality of prisons today and in particular the conditions caused by for-profit, private prisons caring more about the bottom line than the people in their care. Shane Bauer gives both the historical context of making money off of prisoners and the current practices. This book should be a call to action against companies such as CCA.
Stephen Durrant
Jan 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
I confess to be growing tired of the every-other-chapter style of nonfiction, which one finds employed these days in some fiction as well. Here, one chapter presents Shane Bauer's story of going undercover as a prison guard to get the inside dope, so to speak, on a privatized prison in Louisiana, and the next chapter traces the history of for-profit prisons in the American south from the Civil War up into the middle of the twentieth century, which were really just a continuation of slavery. Then ...more
Simply fantastic.

If you liked Bauer's reporting in Mother Jones, you'll love this greatly expanded story about his time undercover at the privately-owned Winn Correctional Unit in Louisiana.

Winn is owned by the then-named CCA, now rebranded as CoreCivic. It's one of the two biggies in the private prison industry, along with GeoGroup, the former Wackenhut, aka Whack Your Nuts.

Bauer gives a history of private prisons, along with that of public prisons renting out inmates to the private sector, cu
Jan 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This here is the type of journalism I most admire -- brave, risky, bold. Shane Bauer is an undercover reporter who got a job as a guard in private prison in Louisiana. A job starting at $9 per hour! 9 freaking dollars an hour in a facility with over 1000 prisoners! I bet some states have a better minimum wage than that. If this doesn't sound ridiculous enough just keep reading the book. Besides providing his personal account with prisoners and staff, which at times is quite brutal, Bauer does ex ...more
Diane Payne
Sep 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
American Prison is not an easy read but it is an essential read. Earlier, I had read Shane Bauer's essay about his undercover reporting of prisons in Mother Jones and knew I had to read this book. Too often, we don't pay attention to the fact that as voters and citizens we do have a voice in prison reform. We watch shows like Orange is the New Black, laugh uncomfortably, then don't do anything after watching the episode where the inmates believe they are finally being released from prison, which ...more
Dec 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book really made me angry - so disgusting how privatizing prison is all about profit and not the people.
Nov 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Really exciting reporting. This book is full of both historical and contemporary realities that we conveniently and literally shut away and try not to think about.
Feb 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
An eye-opening report on the history of for-profit prisons in the U.S., half history an half first-person investigative reporting. It's all fairly disturbing. And absorbing.

Bauer's adventure as an undercover reporter working for four months as a prison corrections officer would make a great movie.
Larry Bassett
Sep 21, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio
I sincerely wish that I thought this book was better. It is about the privatization of prisons and prisons for profit. The most recent focus of prisons for profit has been its expansion in the immigration detention facility market. After the Obama administration withdrew the federal government from using private prisons, The Trump administration reinstated the practice.

This book is probably about 40% about the authors four month experience as a corrections officer in a private Louisiana prison f
Dec 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audible, non-fiction
I was worried that I wouldn't be able to sustain much interest in anything related to the American criminal justice system, having recently finished the rather lackluster and frustrating third season of Serial. Plus, though I am not completely devoid of the milk of human kindness, the prison population is not one for whom I have a natural sympathy. And that's why I am so glad I read American Prison.

This is such a gripping, enlightening, and sad book. It's full of human misery, and therefore not
Feb 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The central indictment against America's penal system is the premise of this book: that it is so unaccountably insular that the only way to know its true nature is for someone to go deep undercover. Shane Bauer didn’t hide his identity and endeavored to deal honestly with his colleagues, charges, and superiors—a courtesy that was, ultimately, a one-way street. America’s private prison industry is as it has always been—a travesty of rapacious deceit.

Bauer does a great job laying out the history o
Feb 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Excellent. Amazing reporting, both historical information and also Bauer's experiences in Winn Correctional. Highly recommend.
Jan 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book is worth your time. Not only did Bauer write about his undercover work as a corrections officer, but he also discussed the history of privatized prisons. This industry has always been about the money and has never been about the PEOPLE who live and work within the industry.

I have already recommended this book to two people.

One other quick note: The changes that were noticed within Bauer during the four months that he worked in the prison were very interesting.

I try very hard not to
Dec 07, 2018 rated it liked it
Really interesting project, but ultimately not substantive. The most interesting bits are the parts that he goes back in history, but it's all already written in Slavery By Another Name and the New Jim Crow. The personal account is very interesting--and so is the fact that Bauer himself was incarcerated. I wish he had spoken more about that. I was very interested in the comparison, but he doesn't really go into it.
Esther Espeland
Jan 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
Super good, learned so much! Liked how the chapters bat Winn correctional facility were interspersed with historical analysis
Mar 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: audiobook
A look at the history of for profit prisons in America told by a journalist through research and his own experience as a prison guard when he went undercover. Makes an extremely compelling argument for the abolition of for profit prisons. A must read/listen.
Mar 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
A deeply disturbing look at privately run prison and the larger history of treatment of the incarcerated in the US. The horrors depicted, both historical and present day, are unreal. Also equally interesting is reading about author’s experience working undercover as a guard and the psychological changes he noticed in himself in the work.
Feb 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
I think I already knew I hated private prisons, but he did a great job of describing the history of the American penal system, pretty interesting.
Catherine Norman
Dec 31, 2018 rated it really liked it
First thoughts after reading this book: Shane Bauer is more courageous than I will ever be. After being imprisoned in Iran and spending time in solitary confinement, he takes on a $9/hour job to work at a private prison in Louisiana. This book goes into detail about his four months as a correctional office and weaves his story with the history of the privatization of prisons in America. Some of the chapters detailing the history of private prisons included new information for me; if you've read ...more
Oct 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
Essential reading about a topic requiring our urgent attention and commitment to solve. For-profit prisons are a scourge and blight that must end if our democracy is to survive. We must commit ourselves to reforming how our society thinks about prison, punishment, and rehabilitation. This book does a good job of highlighting one for-profit prison’s failings and what needs to change.
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Goodreads Librari...: Combine Editions 2 10 Oct 30, 2018 10:44PM  
Obsessed with Tru...: American Prison 1 9 Oct 24, 2018 10:32AM  
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NPR Book Club: Book for October 2018-American Prison 1 5 Sep 29, 2018 11:35AM  
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“The United States imprisons a higher portion of its population than any country in the world. In 2017 we had 2.2 million people in prisons and jails, a 500 percent increase over the last forty years. We now have almost 5 percent of the world’s population and nearly a quarter of its prisoners.” 2 likes
“Like prison systems throughout the South, Texas's grew directly out of slavery. After the Civil War the state's economy was in disarray, and cotton and sugar planters suddenly found themselves without hands they could force to work. Fortunately for them, the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery, left a loophole. It said that 'neither slavery nor involuntary servitude' shall exist in the United States 'except as punishment for a crime.' As long as black men were convicted of crimes, Texas could lease all of its prisoners to private cotton and sugar plantations and companies running lumber camps and coal mines, and building railroads. It did this for five decades after the abolition of slavery, but the state eventually became jealous of the revenue private companies and planters were earning from its prisoners. So, between 1899 and 1918, the state bought ten plantations of its own and began running them as prisons.” 1 likes
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