“You don’t know what goes on behind closed doors” is a popular saying. It especially rings true for the doors of private prisons. The institutions have been known for being profit-driven, putting money before the well-being of the inmates inside. When this happens, the prisoners are often ill-treated. Proper mental and health care is scarce, as well as vocational and recreational amenities. There are also stories of inmates facing maltreatment and abuse from prison guards. What better way to uncover the truth than by sending in an undercover journalist for a private prisons investigation? Continue through this gallery to see life within the institution from the viewpoint of an undercover prison guard.
1. Shane Bauer Goes Undercover
“All that matters anymore is action…” wrote Shane Bauer for Mother Jones. The journalist went undercover as a prison guard in a 2014 investigation, where he began to thrive on executing his authoritative power. Bauer experienced four months of the job in the United States’ oldest medium-security private prison. Bauer documented his disturbing encounters through a hidden camera implanted in his wristwatch.
2. Driven by Profit
Bauer’s goal was to uncover daily life in a private prison as well as the controversy that surrounds it. Private prisons are accountable to shareholders, making them a profit-driven operation. Because they are heavily guarded by law, the truth of what goes on inside the facilities are hardly known and rarely investigated.
3. Profit of a Prison
In 2016, the CCA made $1.85 billion with a gross profit of $574 million. CoreCivic has been running successfully since its inception in 1983, largely due to the criminal justice system broadening throughout the 80’s and 90’s due to overcrowding, drugs, and strict sentencing. CoreCivic currently runs 65 state and federal prisons with a total capacity for 90,000 inmates.
4. Easily Undercover
To infiltrate the private prison, all Bauer needed was a cooperating employee. No background checks or resumes were required to be part of the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). A training manager of the operation, which is now called CoreCivic, said to Bauer, “If you come here and you breathing and you got a valid driver’s license and you willing to work, then we’re willing to hire you.”
5. Winn Correctional Center
Upon receiving employment, Bauer was appointed to the Winn Correctional Center located in Kisatchie National Forest, Louisiana. The facility is made up of four “tiers:” Dogwood, Ash, Elm and Cypress, each with its own reputation and connecting to their own control room called “the key.” Dogwood was known for housing well-behaved inmates; troublemakers lived in Ash and Elm; in Cypress, inmates were segregated in units of private cells.
6. It Takes 30 Days to Make a Prison Guard
It took Bauer a short 30 days to become a correctional officer. He received training from the Special Operations Response Team (SORT) for rough-and-tumble. He even had to undergo being tear-gassed.
7. Poverty Wages
On Bauer’s third week, he received his paycheck for two week’s of work. It was for $587 and change. “I honestly do not know how somebody lives on that wage,” Bauer said. The investigation looked not only at the prison itself, but the surrounding community, which is predominantly poor and lacking in gainful employment. Bauer’s work revealed that because employment is so scarce, the industry can offer low-paying jobs because residents have little choice but to take it. In 2017, the federal poverty line was $12,060. Bauer’s yearly salary with CCA would amount to $15,262, just $3,000 more than the poverty line. Bauer also noted that a state prison guard’s starting wage was $12.50 per hour, far more than what a private prison offers.
8. Inmate Issues
The journalist was first exposed to issues within the prison two weeks into his investigation. Inmate Chase Cortez escaped from prison, stole a pick-up truck, and drove away unnoticed for hours. Eventually, the staff realized his absence and Cortez was discovered by the local sheriff. His unknown escape was probably due in part to the guard towers being unmanned since 2010.
9. Cost-Cutting Measures
According to Bauer’s investigation, the escaped inmate, Chase Cortez, was near his end at Winn, having just three months left on his sentence. Bauer’s interviews with past CCA employees showed how the escape was possible. Four years prior, CCA had removed guards from the watchtowers around the prison and replaced them with cameras, which are monitored inside the prison. CCA calls these cameras “newer technology,” rendering guard towers essentially obsolete. A former employee said guards in the towers would have most certainly seen the man trying to escape. CCA’s response to the incident was to fire a guard for ignoring an alarm inside the prison.
10. Unnecessarily Uncomfortable
When Bauer completed his 30-day training, he began working in Cypress on suicide watch. The rooms in Cypress are made to be extremely uncomfortable for the inmates, to discourage any negative behavior. They sleep on steel bunks with no mattresses, and have no reading material or other means of entertainment. The inmates also go unclothed, given only tear-proof suicide blankets.
11. Lack of Health Provisions
The prison’s social worker, Miss Carter, exposed the reality of the lack of mental health provisions in the facility. She explained to Bauer how 10 percent of the inmates were going untreated for psychological health issues and 25 percent of them had IQs below 70, meaning many could be considered mentally handicapped. Compared to other facilities, Winn was seriously inefficient at providing for its patients, with other places providing at least three full-time social workers and a full-time psychiatrist.
12. Room for Resources
Resources present in other correctional facilities that were completely knocked out in Winn’s were work programs and hobby shops, and they had limited access to the law library. Because the number of guards was scarce, the recreation yard was hardly able to be utilized by the inmates, leaving them with lots of energy with nowhere to put it.
13. (No) Medical Care
Medical care was even worse. Bauer was exposed to an inmate diagnosed with having fluid in his lungs, which requires minor surgery. Instead, the prisoner went untreated to keep expenses low. Another inmate, Robert Scott, had been at Winn for 12 years. Throughout nine separate occasions of complaining of pain in his hands and feet, Scott went undiagnosed. His toes and fingers turned black from gangrene, and when he was finally admitted to the hospital, he had to have his fingers and legs amputated.
14. Nickel and Diming on Medical Care
Speaking with Robert Scott’s lawyer, Robert L. Marrero, Bauer was able to figure out quickly why medical care was so poor. “One of them was a pediatrician who had lost his privileges to treat children,” said Marrero, speaking of one of CCA’s doctors. Bauer’s investigation looked at a host of the prison’s doctors and found more than a dozen had been sued for poor medical care, and others had been sued by the state for misconduct.
15. Incidents Around the Country
Around 15 percent of CoreCivic’s inmates have filed lawsuits against them, including Robert Scott. At a case in their Chattanooga, Tennessee location, a pregnant inmate was left going into labor alone without proper care and attention. Staff waited five hours before calling an ambulance to get her to the hospital, causing her to lose a substantial amount of blood.
16. A Violent Instituion
Bauer noted the many cases of violence at Winn, recounting frequent stabbings that resulted in indefinite lockdowns where prisoners aren’t allowed to leave their tiers.
Bauer hardly went unaffected by the inmates. Feeling victimized by the prisoners, Bauer eventually delighted in the idea of physically fighting them, and took no time to utilize his authoritative position.
17. Danger to the Guards
Along with Bauer himself, he interviewed two other former employees from CCA and a former inmate, all were able to point to a lack of proper security at the prison that helped facilitate an atmosphere of violence. From January to April 2015, CCA reported more than 200 weapons at Winn, making it the most heavily armed prison in the state at the time. Bauer and the two other former guards often were moments away from being hospitalized.
18. An Early End to the Investigation
However, the journalist’s experience came to an abrupt end when a journalist coworker of Bauer’s was charged with trespassing outside of the Winn compound. He was attempting to get footage of the prison. Consequently, Bauer had to make his escape. He called in sick to work, bailed out his coworker, and took his things and ran out of state.
19. Uncovering the Truth
Bauer’s undercover experience exposed the tragedies of private correction facilities. The drive for profit overrode proper health care and vocational services for inmates, as well as allowing violence in the scarcely guarded facility. Eventually, CoreCivic announced they were ending their contract for Winn after being exposed to its inadequate functionality. Winn was taken over by LaSalle corrections in late 2015.
20. Benefits of Private Prisons
Advocates of the private prison industry claim that these institutions help save the federal government money. But these findings aren’t always true. According to a Brookings Institute report, a study conducted in the state of Arizona of its minimum-security public and private prisons found that the private companies saved the state about 14 percent. However, that study was eventually found to be financed by the private prison industry, and Temple University disassociated itself with the findings. Other unbiased studies found different results. …
21. Private Prisons Cost More Than Public Ones