American Prison by Shane Bauer (Book Review)

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American Prison: A Reporter’s Undercover Journey Into the Business of Punishment

By Shane Bauer

Penguin Books Paperback $18.00 (Previously in Hardcover)



351 Pages

Many people in the United States first heard of Shane Bauer in 2009, when he and two other Americans, Sarah Shourd and Joshua Fattal, were arrested on false charges of spying on Iran.  They were held for more than two years before the U.S. State Department secured their release.

All three Americans who were subjected to that trauma co-authored a memoir and wrote about their experience in Mother Jones Magazine.  However, Shane Bauer had a continuing interest in exposing corrections systems as misguided institutions for rehabilitating people who have been through the criminal court system.

While still working for Mother Jones, Mr. Bauer went undercover to apply for a job as a corrections officer with CoreCivic, then known as Corrections Corporation of America, a for-profit prison chain.  He was assigned to Winn Correctional Center in Winn Parish, Louisiana.

American Prison: A Reporter’s Journey Into the Business of Punishment is the product of research which was done discreetly while Mr. Bauer worked at Winn.  Throughout most of the book, the author alternates between chapters recounting the history of incarceration in the U.S. and accounts of his own experiences at work.

With very few exceptions, prison is a warehouse for people with criminal records.  It offers very little or nothing in terms of education, addiction rehab or mental health treatment.  The author’s experience is that private sector incarceration is even stingier in that regard, for reasons that are explained in the book.

American Prison shouldn’t be read at bedtime.  However, it’s vital for anyone who seeks an understanding of how damaged lives are addressed the wrong way, and what should be done to correct that.


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