Mother Jones reporter Shane Bauer went under cover as a guard at a for-profit prison in Louisiana. His findings suggest a lack of health care and disregard for inmates' health.
Bauer was hired by Winn Correctional Center in Louisiana, which is run by the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the United States' second-largest private prison company. Private prisons house 131,000 of the nation's 1.6 million total prisoners, according to Mother Jones. Since these prisons do not release records as they are considered private companies, the only way of understanding what goes on within its walls is to actually be there.
In an interview with NPR, Bauer divulged the little to no oversight within the prison, the lack of staff, and, most shockingly, the complete lack of health care.
As an example, Bauer tells the story of one inmate who was confined to a wheelchair after losing his legs and fingers:
He told me ... that he had made many visits to the infirmary over several months complaining of intense pain in his legs, later complaining of pus dripping out of his feet. And he would be given Motrin and sent back. He says that sometimes the nurses would suggest he was faking it and send him back. And it wasn't until it was too late that he got sent to the hospital and his legs were amputated.
Bauer suggests that the lack of medical care stems from the for-profit prison's desire to make money. The CCA "would have to bear the expense of sending a prisoner to a hospital," Bauer explained. "If they're making $34 per inmate per day, a hospital bill is a major expense."
Not only was there a lack of medical care, but also a lack of mental health care. In his Mother Jones article, Bauer explained that in a prison of 1,500 inmates, there are no full-time psychiatrists employed and only one full-time social worker. Guards with no training or background would have to sit on suicide watches.
Mother Jones further reports that a third of the inmates had mental health problems and a quarter had IQ levels under 70. Those who had severe mental health issues would be stripped naked, put in solitary confinement, and given only a tear-proof blanket.
Bauer, who sat on suicide watch a couple of times as his time as a guard, recalls an inmate who told him he was having a mental health emergency. "[H]e was threatening to jump off his bed and break his neck," Bauer told NPR. "I reported this, and it wasn't for about six hours that a psychiatrist showed up to talk to him."
The same man eventually hung himself in his cell after Bauer left the facility. He died weighing only 71 pounds.
A CCA spokesman scolded Bauer for his "fundamental misunderstanding" of the company's business and "corrections in general," according to Mother Jones.