CRF Blog

The Dickensian Conditions of Life in a For-Profit Lockup

by Bill Hayes

In The Dickensian Conditions of Life in a For-Profit Lockup for the New York Times Book Review, Nate Blakeslee reviews American Prison: A Reporter’s Undercover Journey Into the Business of Punishment by Shane Bauer.

Two weeks after Shane Bauer, a senior reporter for Mother Jones magazine, began his undercover stint as a prison guard at Winn Correctional Center in rural Louisiana, an inmate jumped the razor-wire fence and sprinted into the surrounding woods. There were no officers in the guard towers to witness his escape; the private prison company hired by the state of Louisiana to run the facility, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), had decided to save money by leaving those posts empty. An alarm sounded in the control room, but a guard ostensibly monitoring the battery of surveillance cameras saw nothing. Rather than review the footage, she simply switched off the alarm and returned her attention to whatever was occupying it beforehand. Hours passed before anybody noticed that the inmate was gone.

The situation at Winn went downhill from there, as Bauer revealed in a 35,000-word exposé that ran in Mother Jones in the summer of 2016, an article that immediately became one of the most celebrated achievements in that venerable publication’s recent renaissance. “American Prison” reprises that page-turning narrative, and adds not only the fascinating back story of CCA, the nation’s first private prison company, but also an eye-opening examination of the history of corrections as a profit-making enterprise …. [more]