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Publisher's Summary

"An enraging, necessary look at the private prison system, and a convincing clarion call for prison reform.” (NPR.org)

New York Times Book Review 10 Best Books of 2018

One of President Barack Obama’s favorite books of 2018 

Winner of the 2019 J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize

Winner of the Helen Bernstein Book Award for Excellence in Journalism

Winner of the 2019 RFK Book and Journalism Award

A New York Times Notable Book

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 nine dollars 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 meaningful background check. Four months later, his employment came to an abrupt end. But he had seen enough, and in short order he wrote an exposé about his experiences that won a National Magazine Award and became the most-read feature in the history of the magazine Mother Jones. 

Still, there was much more that he needed to say. 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 the decades before the Civil War. For, as he soon realized, we can't understand the cruelty of our current system and its place in the larger story of mass incarceration without understanding where it came from. Private prisons became entrenched in the South as part of a systemic effort to keep the African-American labor force in place in the aftermath of slavery, and the echoes of these shameful origins are with us still.  

The private prison system is deliberately unaccountable to public scrutiny. Private prisons are not incentivized to tend to the health of their inmates, or to feed them well, or to attract and retain a highly trained prison staff. Though Bauer befriends some of his colleagues and sympathizes with their plight, the chronic dysfunction of their lives only adds to the prison's sense of chaos. To his horror, Bauer finds himself becoming crueler and more aggressive the longer he works in the prison, and he is far from alone.  

A blistering indictment of the private prison system, and the powerful forces that drive it, American Prison is a necessary human document about the true face of justice in America.

©2018 Shane Bauer (P)2018 Penguin Audio

Critic Reviews

American Prison reprises [Bauer’s] page-turning narrative [as reported in Mother Jones], 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.... Bauer is a generous narrator with a nice ear for detail, and his colleagues come across as sympathetic characters, with a few notable exceptions.... The sheer number of forehead-slapping quotes from Bauer’s superiors and fellow guards alone are worth the price of admission." (The New York Times Book Review)

American Prison is both the remarkable story of a journalist who spent four months working as a corrections officer, and a horrifying exposé of how prisoners were treated by a corporation that profited from them.... It’s Bauer’s investigative chops, though, that make American Prison so essential. He dedicated his time at Winn to talking with prisoners and guards, who were unaware that he was a journalist.... Based on his firsthand experience and these conversations, he paints a damning picture of prisoner mistreatment and under-staffing at the prison, where morale among the incarcerated and the employees was poor. The stories he tells are deeply sad and consistently infuriating... An enraging, necessary look at the private prison system, and a convincing clarion call for prison reform.” (NPR.org)

“A relentless and uncompromising book, one that takes a crowbar to the private prison industry and yanks hard, letting just enough daylight slip inside to illuminate the contours of the beast.... The private prison industry is booming once again. To find out what that means for real people - both those who guard and those who are guarded - American Prison is the place to begin.” (San Francisco Chronicle)

  • One of Boston Globe’s Best Books of 2018
  • One of San Francisco Chronicle’s 10 Best Books of 2018 
  • One of Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2018
  • Featured in Mother Jones’ Favorite Nonfiction of 2018    

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What listeners say about American Prison

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You need to stay with the actual story

Your mom inclusion of the history of the corporate officers of CCA was very helpful. Your attempt to weave an investigative reporters narrative into the hundreds of years of slave/indentured servitude is beyond the scope of both your abilities and the intent of this book.

I am a father who has a Son currently serving time in an Ohio State Prison. I was actually looking for more insight into how prison culture use individuals like my Son, the regular use of binding new prisoners up into a prison debt system with no way out. I was looking for ways and methods I could employ to bolster either the counselors or religious staff in their efforts to help (or if there are other avenues to bring life/light/hope into what can only be described as a Hell on earth).

To be honest, I am only 10 chapters in and it’s possible you might get to some of my criticisms. However, again much of what I have heard thus far is about underpaid, over worked, under educated people on one end and a fabulously greedy corporate culture on the other. At this point, there isn’t much difference between CCA and Walmart (yet another slave state of affairs).

I will read it to the end, if I find out no lawsuits were filed or settled, no one was held accountable and yet all the CCA’s atrocities just continue under the “no fault” state/federal management system, your book will have been a waste of paper.

I am all too familiar with the profit centers like Jpay, GTL, (Ohio) Union Supply Direct, Walkenhort’s Inmate Supply, Access Securepak who regularly market their inflated product supply/inventories to families of inmates. Our Society has figured out all sorts of new ways to monetize both the families and the inmates. This is all a damnable process and it is possible reporters like you might be the answer. First, now is a great time to throw away what happened 200-3000 years ago, focus on the atrocities of today and how it will effect tomorrow.

I just a Dad who hurts every day, then I get “promotions” through email from Jpay and others on add-one I should purchase to make my “Loved One” more comfortable. I honestly have the home address in Florida of the owner of Jpay, I have a burning desire to go to his house and confront him in the most aggressive manner possible. You have the power of the pen, keep focused and keep your reporting on today’s atrocities! That will help me and hopefully my Son.

5 people found this helpful

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Required reading

This book should be required reading in every high school civics class and in every US history class in both high school and college. Bauer has given an account of something hidden from the public eye that everyone should know. Riveting, accessible and eye-opening. Also read on Audible with perfection.

5 people found this helpful

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  • ML
  • 12-11-18

It's a scary book.

Shane Bauer was brutally honest - that's why I recommend the book. He describes prison conditions and how it shaped his character in 4 short months. Prison immersion changes people, believe it.

Government allows private prisons because they're cheaper, plain and simple. By the end of the book, one understands this forward and backward.

The book gives a window into how things actually work in private prisons, the cold logic that prevails while most of the rest falls off. It's difficult for the mind to reconcile such differences, but one learns to accept them.

The scary thing is how the historical sections of the book don't support any reason to hope things are going to get better.


10 people found this helpful

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Disgusting

We never really ended slavery, only rebranded it as prison labor. The modern version is the privatized prison. They kept that guy in prison for a year after his time was up. Why? He had no place to go. So, they pay practically nothing, take it back in commissary, provide no job training, then keep you in prison because you have no place to go because you have no money. We need to end this evil system. I'm writing to my state representative.

21 people found this helpful

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A Remarkable Story

This is a well written book on many levels. Mr. Bauer became a prison guard at a private correctional facility in Louisiana working for what is now called CoreCivic. It is a corporation that provides extremely poor, limited services at correctional facilities so that it can generate millions of dollars in profits for its shareholders and management. Mr. Bauer’s observations of careless, dangerous, inhuman behavior at the expense of employees and inmates was routinely denied by CoreCivic who threatened to sue his publication (Mother Jones) and Mr. Bauer if they published what he observed. Thankfully Mr. Bauer recorded and filmed what the observed and no lawsuit was forthcoming. This is, in essence, the cruel and unusual punishment that is prohibited by the Eighth Amendment to our Constitution.
Mr. Bauer tells his story with a cogent history of private ownership of correctional facilities that dates back hundreds of years and essentially replaced slavery with cheap labor that is forced to work under inhuman conditions.
On another level, Mr. Bauer lets us know the effect of just a few weeks of his employment on his personal life, his feelings and the changes to his personality. It is a remarkable story. It deserves to be a NY Times Best Book of 2018.

4 people found this helpful

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Intense

Enjoyable, interesting, intense. Once I started listening on Audible, I couldn’t stop until I was completely finished. A bit too much detail on the history of U.S. prisons, but all in all satisfying. Great work by the author on exposing the truth about private prisons in America.

3 people found this helpful

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Dark, entertaining, and informative.

Quite possibly one of the most entertaining non-fiction books I’ve ever read. A glimpse into the twisted world of the American prison system that will throw you into an emotional whirlwind of anger, sadness, and hopelessness.

An important read if we are ever going to fix this deeply broken piece of our society. We have 4% of the world’s population yet 1/4 of its prisoners. The goal seems to be to make prison profitable, not to rehabilitate criminals. If you are a true patriot and care about the USA, you’ll read this book!

The narration is very well done also.

7 people found this helpful

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Too much of a history lesson!

The only parts of this book I truly enjoyed were when he was telling the stories of the prisoners and their backgrounds. There was way too much history of prisons. I would have enjoyed hearing more about his day to day life in CCA.

2 people found this helpful

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Boring

The chapters dealing with the history of prisons and prisoners were interesting but the chapters detailing his undercover work were flat out boring. I guess I was expecting more drama. Got about halfway through the book and couldn't listen any more.

2 people found this helpful

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Thought provocking and disturbing prison truths!

This is a very harsh look at prisons in America, past and present. The writer does an excellent job of creating a good history of how prisons in America started and morphed into what today, is the industrial prison complex. It is shocking, and at times unbelievable, the way human beings have been treated and how they are treated today. I would recommend this book for anyone who is interested in the human condition and prisons in general.
Paula W.

2 people found this helpful

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  • wordec
  • 11-20-19

Amazing

what a fantastic story...to go from inmate to captor like that...this is the journalism we need kudos to the publication for funding and supporting him.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 04-16-19

intense

this is such a worthwhile book and I am in awe of the author. it's very intense. not for those who want a light read but for those who want a book that's informative challenging and powerful