Special Investigation: My Four Months as a Private Prison Guard

August 19, 2016
Posted in Blog
August 19, 2016 Editor
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by Shane Bauer

July/August 2016 issue of Mother Jones

This is a highly poignant story, at once courageous and deeply unsettling. With the news August 18, 2016, that the US federal Justice Department will shut down private prisons over the next five years, this is a great victory. Though the story by Truthout posted here (see also here), is very sobering. And of course the recently promulgated Nelson Mandela Rules seem absolutely far removed from the kind of reality this story exposes.

Other countries, including Canada, struggle to even come close to the Rules ideal. Whereas in some Scandinavian countries, the Rules seem to be in place – with far less repeat, and far less serious, crime.

Read Why Our Reporter Worked at a Prison

by Clara Jeffery

an excerpt:

When CCA (which runs 61 prisons, jails, and detention centers on behalf of US taxpayers) learned about our investigation, it sent us a four-page letter warning that Shane had “knowingly and deliberately breached his duty to CCA by violating its policies,” and that there could be all manner of legal consequences. The letter came not from CCA’s in-house counsel, but from the same law firm that had represented a billionaire megadonor in his three-year quest to punish us for reporting on his anti-LGBT activities. When he lost, he pledged $1 million to support others who might want to sue us, and, though we won the case, were it not for the support of our readers the out-of-pocket costs would have hobbled us.

Shane’s story will draw a fair bit of curiosity around the newsgathering methods employed. But don’t let anyone distract you from the story itself. Because the story itself is revealing as hell.

an excerpt from the story itself:

I take a breath. Am I really going to become a prison guard? Now that it might actually happen, it feels scary and a bit extreme.

I started applying for jobs in private prisons because I wanted to see the inner workings of an industry that holds 131,000 of the nation’s 1.6 million prisoners. As a journalist, it’s nearly impossible to get an unconstrained look inside our penal system. When prisons do let reporters in, it’s usually for carefully managed tours and monitored interviews with inmates. Private prisons are especially secretive. Their records often aren’t subject to public access laws; CCA has fought to defeat legislation that would make private prisons subject to the same disclosure rules as their public counterparts. And even if I could get uncensored information from private prison inmates, how would I verify their claims? I keep coming back to this question: Is there any other way to see what really happens inside a private prison?

CCA certainly seemed eager to give me a chance to join its team. Within two weeks of filling out its online application, using my real name and personal information, several CCA prisons contacted me, some multiple times.

They weren’t interested in the details of my résumé. They didn’t ask about my job history, my current employment with the Foundation for National Progress, the publisher of Mother Jones, or why someone who writes about criminal justice in California would want to move across the country to work in a prison. They didn’t even ask about the time I was arrested for shoplifting when I was 19.

When I call Winn Correctional Center in Winnfield, Louisiana, the HR lady who answers is chipper and has a smoky Southern voice. “I should tell you upfront that the job only pays $9 an hour, but the prison is in the middle of a national forest. Do you like to hunt and fish?”

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Editor

Wayne Northey was Director of Man-to-Man/Woman-to-Woman – Restorative Christian Ministries (M2/W2) in British Columbia, Canada from 1998 to 2014, when he retired. He has been active in the criminal justice arena and a keen promoter of Restorative Justice since 1974. He has published widely on peacemaking and justice themes. You will find more about that on this website: a work in progress.

Always appreciate constructive feedback! Thanks.

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