Mother Jones reporter Shane Bauer recently wrote an in-depth article and filmed videos (below) about how he went undercover as a prison guard for the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), a private company that runs prisons across the U.S.
Bauer worked at the Winn Correctional Center in Winnfield, Louisiana, and recalled the atrocities that he and others allegedly witnessed.
In addition to his undercover experience, Bauer was jailed between 2009 and 2011 in Iran for hiking.
During an online Q & A on June 23, Gawker editor Andy Cush asked Bauer to compare the Winn Correctional Center to Evin Prison in Iran.
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Bauer replied, "It’s hard to compare Evin prison in Iran and Winn Correctional in Louisiana. In Iran, I was in [a] highly controlled environment. Winn was chaotic, and much more violent."
In his piece for Mother Jones, Bauer said he chose to work at the Winn Correctional Center because Louisiana has "the highest incarceration rate in the world—more than 800 prisoners per 100,000 residents."
In the first Mother Jones video, a former guard describes the Louisiana prison as "hell," and Bauer adds, "This prison is crazy beyond anything I ever imagined." The video also shows news clips that illustrate how the private prison business is a multi-billion dollar industry; Bauer said that he was paid $9 an hour.
In the second video, former guards and Bauer talk about a prisoner who climbed two fences and escaped. Bauer said the guards in the guard towers had been replaced by surveillance cameras; there is also a discussion about the high turnover rate among prison guards.
In the third video, the health care at the prison is described as "awful" and "poor quality" by former guards. Bauer said he talked to a prisoner who lost his fingers and legs after getting gangrene while incarcerated. According to Bauer, inmates who are on suicide watch are in special cells where they are underfed, and mental health professionals arrive about six hours after being called about multiple cases.
In the fourth video, Bauer says that prison guards are trained not to intervene in violent fights between prisoners. Former prison guards described the stabbings that they witnessed and how unsafe the jail is.
In the fifth video, Bauer says the prison has gone into lockdown and CCA sent in a Special Operations Response team. The team strip-searches inmates, which raises the tension in the prison; Bauer fears a riot is going to take place.
In the sixth video, Mother Jones videographer James West is filming outside the prison when he is confronted by police and arrested for not handing over his camera; West is charged with trespassing.
One officer is caught on video saying they should seize the camera, and then get a search warrant. Bauer expresses his concern for West's well-being; West is released from custody. Bauer resigns from his prison job.
Seven months later, West pleads no contest to misdemeanor trespassing; a court dismisses his conviction.