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

4.25  ·  Rating details ·  1,884 ratings  ·  301 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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4.25  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,884 ratings  ·  301 reviews

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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.

♥ 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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
Rachel Wall
Oct 02, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-non-fiction
Listened to this on audio, nothing new or engaging if you’ve read other items on the issues with prison, reform, etc.
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
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.
Ryan Mishap
Feb 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: modern-essay, history
Deadly, excellent, infuriating, insightful, emotional, revealing: don't waste time with me, go read this now!

Read The New Jim Crow and watch 13th on Netflix and then you will be an anti-prison activist!
Sep 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. In many regards reminds me of an all time favorite, Black Like Me.
Oct 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I could not put this book down. Five stars.

In 2015, Shane Bauer, a reporter with Mother Jones, goes undercover for four months at a privately owned (”for profit") prison in rural Louisiana, Winn Correctional, managed by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). He is hired for $9 an hour. He carries a pen that doubles as an audio recorder, a small notebook, a coffee thermos with a small camera in it, and documents his daily dealings with staff and inmates at his job. What he finds at Winn is pre
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
Kathy (Bermudaonion)
Aug 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars
Jan 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
American Prison is an unflinching look at how the American, for-profit, privately run prison system works. I really liked how Mr. Bauer incorporated aspects of prison history to provide the reader with a fleshed out context of how prisons are run. I had always discounted claims that prisons are a modern day form of slavery and how the prison system has its roots in slavery. Ridiculous! Hog wash! Now I realize that those claims are absolutely grounded in facts. How can a person who has gone throu ...more
Carol Chapin
Feb 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
I’ve been auditing a class in Modern American History at Kent State. One would think this wouldn’t have much new for me, but not even considering everything I’ve forgotten, the class has been enlightening.

I’ve been interested in the Civil War, but I haven’t thought much about Reconstruction, even though it was a pivotal period. The economy of the South had fallen apart, and there was no (willing) labor to work the plantations. The 13th Amendment had one exception: slavery was prohibited, “excep
Stephen Selbst
Oct 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shane Bauer became a correctional officer at a prison run by Correctional Corporation of America in Louisiana to investigate conditions inside a for-profit prison. American Prison tells the story of his experience and also provides a brief history of the use of convict labor by state prison systems.

Bauer's story is horrifying; as he demonstrates, CCA will do anything to keep its costs down. Those efforts at cost containment mean that, among other things, it pays guards little more than minimum
Dec 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018, non-fiction
Coming from Canada, I'm familiar with words and phrases such as "restorative justice," "rehabilitation" and "lax" being applied to the Canadian prison system, so I wasn't prepared to hear the word "business" in context of incarceration, but that's the history of the American prison system, in addition to more disturbing socio-political origins in slavery.

Chapters alternate between the past -- a look into the history of prisons in the United States -- and the present, the author's four-month exp
Nov 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
I recently watched all three seasons of Hard Time on Netflix, the National Geographic documentary series about the men and women behind bars, as well as those tasked with keeping them in line. There were some prisoners who walked into the penitentiary determined to break every rule they're given and screw anyone who tries to stop them. I asked my husband how prisons are supposed to rehabilitate someone who doesn't want to change. Then I listened to the audio book of American Prison and I'm wonde ...more
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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  
Goodreads Librari...: Combine Editions 2 15 Oct 17, 2018 09:07PM  
NPR Book Club: Book for October 2018-American Prison 1 5 Sep 29, 2018 11:35AM  
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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.” 1 likes
“CCA finds ways to minimize its obligation to provide adequate health care. At the out-of-state prisons where California ships some of its inmates, CCA will not accept any prisoners who are over sixty-five years old, have mental health issues, or serious conditions like HIV. The company's Idaho prison contract specified that the 'primary criteria' for screening incoming offenders was 'no chronic mental health or health care issues.' The contracts of some CCA prisons in Tennessee and Hawaii stipulate that the states will bear the cost of HIV treatment. Such exemptions allow CCA to tout its cost efficiency while taxpayers assume the medical expenses for the inmates the company won't take or treat.” 1 likes
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