American Prison by Shane Bauer documents many of the atrocities witnessed by the author when he went undercover as reporter to investigate the U.S. private prison complex and to work as a security guard at Winn Correctional Center in Winnfield, Louisiana. Winn is owned by the Correctional Corporation of America.
Bauer who reports from Mother Jones says he chose to go undercover in Louisiana because the state has the highest incarceration rate in the world – about 5 times that of China. Winn also is the oldest medium security prison in the U.S.
Bauer’s foray into the underbelly of the private prison complex is somewhat surprising considering his imprisonment in Iran for 26 months made international headline news. Bauer and two of his friends were arrested while hiking and accused of spying.
Fast forward. Bauer’s more recent undercover reporting exposes the inhumanity and vagaries associated with the private and state system industrial complex. Bauer notes how much of the modern system of incarceration in the South has roots connected to slavery. Yes. You see, Bauer notes, “After the Civil War the state’s [Texas] 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.” So, for five generations after slavery, Texas leased its prisoners to private companies to the work in the fields, lumber camps, coal mines and building railroads. When the states saw all the money that was being made, they began to buy plantations and running their own revenue generating operations using prison labor.
In addition to Bauer’s work, which is a must read for anyone seeking to deconstruct systemic injustice, a report released in April 2018 by the Corrections Accountability Project identified over 3,100 corporations—including over 2,500 privately traded companies—that profit from the United States prison system. The U.S. government spends about $80 billion a year on public and private facilities.