Book Review: American Prison

Journalist and onetime prison guard Shane Bauer examines America’s prison-industrial system from slavery to modern injustices.

In 2011, after 26 months in an Iranian prison on charges of espionage, American journalist Shane Bauer returned home with a new focus: incarceration. American Prison is the culmination of years on the beat and four months working as a guard at Winn Correctional Centre, a private Louisiana prison.

Bauer draws on his own evidence – such as covert recordings from training and day-to-day operations – as well as sources listed in 40 pages of notes at the end of the book; this is meticulously researched. Footnotes throughout indicate how Winn’s mother company, CCA (now CoreCivic), America’s oldest private prison service, responded to events and quotes recorded in Bauer’s book.

Naturally, Bauer uncovers appalling conditions, questionable training, and total corruption – it wouldn’t be much of an exposé without these things. But Bauer does more than excoriate a single malfunctioning prison or prison operator. Ultimately, this is a history and critique of the prison system in America, from its roots in slavery to its blossoms in capitalism.

A significant achievement and a timely read for Australians facing an increasingly privatised prison system.

Author: Shane Bauer
Publisher: Penguin

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