Review of American P
This book is full of stories of injustice, but there was one story that stood out for me. It came at the very end of the book. It involved an inmate who had been shot by police. After a brief stay in a hospital, officers placed him in a cell and left him there unattended. During the night, the man pleaded for help. No one came to his aid. They found him deceased the next morning. A prison employee whose job was to investigate such incidents gathered statements from other inmates, which implicated the prison for the man’s death. The warden of the prison told the investigator to discard the inmate statements. No one was held accountable. That lack of humanity permeates throughout this behind the scenes account of a for-profit prison.
Author Shane Bauer, who himself spent two years in an Iranian prison, wanted to write a story about private prisons. Rather than set up interviews with staff and PR people, he decided to get a job as a corrections officer. In doing so, he was able to write about prison life as seen from the viewpoint of an underpaid, overworked prison guard.
The story of the author’s four-month employment at a Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) prison takes up half the book. The other half contains a history of incarceration and the creation of the for-profit prison concept. The author alternates the two stories from chapter to chapter. I found the history chapters to be the more interesting of the two. The chapters detailing life inside a prison only reinforced my negative opinion of that aspect of the criminal justice system. As one inmate told the author, “you’re doing half my time with me.” I felt like I was doing time as well.
The author covers a lot of ground, touching on a wide variety of subjects, including cash bail, the 13th amendment, recidivism, punishment vs. rehabilitation, prison violence, overcrowding, low pay of prison staff, lack of medical and psychological treatment for inmates, and mass incarceration. It all adds up to one more piece of the broken criminal justice system.