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

4.23  ·  Rating details ·  9,391 ratings  ·  1,201 reviews
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; 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 ...more
Hardcover, 351 pages
Published September 18th 2018 by Penguin Press
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Petra Kiss
What is most sad about this book is that as in all businesses the bottom line, profit, dictates how the business should be run. This book about prison is not about rehabilitation, nor even punishment, but about profit. Therefore the more prisoners the more profit. The least spent on them in terms of guards, conditions, temperature, health care, facilities, food, education and recreation, the more profit. But not just in keeping people incarcerated, but in manufacturing whether on-site or hiring ...more
Oct 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
American Prison details journalist Shane Bauer's four month stint posing undercover as a prison guard at a private, for-profit prison in Winnfield, Louisiana. I didn't know much about prisons before reading this book, and I confess that I haven't given a lot of thought to what life is like when you're locked up. But this book opened my eyes, and also completely shocked me out of my hazy stupor on this topic.

My biggest takeaway is that this country is in desperate need of prison reform. How are p
Dec 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
Investigative journalist Shane Bauer goes undercover as a prison guard in Louisiana, making just $9/hour. He chronicles his experience along with a history of U.S. prisons in American Prison: A Reporter’s Undercover Journey into the Business of Punishment.

As you might expect, the book is filled with statistics and insight regarding the prison system, specifically private prisons, that many readers (self-included) find infuriating, such as:
-”Roughly two-thirds of private prison contracts includ
Apr 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I​f 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 Baue
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
May 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shane Bauer, the author of this book, 'American Prison: A Reporter's Undercover Journey into the Business of Punishment', writes articles about criminal justice for 'Mother Jones' magazine. His name may also be familiar because Bauer, his partner Sarah Shourd and friend Josh Fattal spent two years in Iran's Evin prison.. an experience they documented in the book, 'A Sliver of Light: Three Americans Imprisoned in Iran' . Unsurprisingly, Shane Bauer maintained an interest in prisons and he develop ...more
Sep 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: current-events
Bauer exposes how private prisons make profits through systematic mismanagement and mistreatment of inmates. An investigative reporter working for Mother Jones, Bauer applied and was hired as a corrections officer at Winn Correctional Center in December 2014. Winn, state licensed in Louisiana, was run by a large national private prison company, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). Bauer went through training and worked as a corrections officer for four months, all the time taking extensive ...more
Jun 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is an impressive piece of undercover reporting by Shane Bauer on the brutality of private prisons in America. Bauer worked for several months as a guard at a Louisiana prison, and during his time there he saw first-hand how the private prison system is incentivized to not care for the inmates. For example, those with health care needs are ignored, because paying for doctor or hospital visits eats into the company's profits. Some of Bauer's stories are truly appalling, and this was a deeply ...more
Apr 01, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
[4+] The for-profit prison depicted in this book is even more dismal and horrifying than I expected. In addition to his undercover reports, Bauer also provides a historical perspective of private prisons. I was drawn to this book because it was one of Obama's favorites from a few years ago. Unsurprisingly, as soon as Trump was elected, for-profit prisons, which were being phased out, made a resurgence. ...more
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 interes
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
Alex Givant
Jul 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Excellent book about USA private prisons run by CCA (original article can be found here). The book contains updated version plus history of private prisons in USA. Highly recommended! ...more
Aug 11, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio
Although I ultimately liked this book, I felt in the end that it wasn’t really sure what kind of book it wanted to be. It was part expose about the corruption and mismanagement of one private prison in America, part history of the privatisation of the incarceration industry. In the end, I felt neither of these aspects realised their potential, and weren’t woven together effectively. Read this to be abhorred by the capitalist exploitation of the prison system in America. It’s not new ground, but ...more
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.

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
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
♥ 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
The Nerdwriter
Jun 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This one made me angry. Before reading Shane Bauer's American Prison, I had only a limited understanding of the private prison industry. I knew of its unsavory reputation, as many do, but the sickening details from this undercover report shocked and angered me.

Bauer -- not a year after being released from an Iranian jail! -- decides to investigate private prisons in America from the inside, applying for a job as a guard at Winn Correctional in Louisiana, a facility owned by Corrections Corporat
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
Angie Reisetter
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
May 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
I am usually not a nonfiction reader. But was intrigued when American Prison was one of the top books of 2018. Shane Bauer, an investigative reporter, took a job as a prison guard in Winn, Louisiana for 4 months and wrote his novel based on his personal experiences. Kudos to Mr. Bauer for lasting 4 months.
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
Mar 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: top-shelf-reads
4.50 Stars — you may think you know all about the North American prison system, but let me tell you now before you read this excellent near expose, you don’t!!!

Shane Bauer has lived on both sides of the fence, once a prisoner and now as a guard, he has a concerning downright scary sort to tell, I just dearly hope that the right people are listening..

In this highly engaging novel by a journalist that has gone undercover as a prison guard, we learn that the privatised prison system is one that is
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
Temoc Sol
Oct 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shane Bauer is a brave and dedicated investigative journalist. His passion for his career and literature radiate from this book. This book kept me engaged because it’s raw and realness of its content. There is no hiding the ugliness to pretty up the text. Shane takes you with him during his investigative work instead of him telling you about. I recommend this book to all readers. This book allows us to open our eyes and see those who are blocked by concrete walls. My full YouTube book review htt ...more
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. ...more
Traci at The Stacks
Jan 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
Wow! This book is so intense. Bauer is a great narrator and mixes history with his experience. I found him honest, self critical, and at times unlikable. I appreciate that because he doesn’t try to make himself look better, it’s complicated and he trusts his reader to see that.

The book was a slow start for me but the end was so good. I got emotional and overwhelmed. Wow.
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.
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.
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“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.” 5 likes
“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.” 5 likes
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