By Robert Mann
Charles Dickens might find it familiar and, in some ways, as hopeless as the prisons and workhouses of 19th century England. The privately operated Winn Correctional Center near Winnfield is the subject of a troubling five-part investigative series by Mother Jones magazine in its current edition. Reporter Shane Bauer worked there for four months as a correctional officer in 2014-15. This series chronicles his experiences, as well as the sad state of private prisons in Louisiana and the United States.
While captivated by Bauer’s intrepid work, I have rarely been so depressed by a piece of investigative journalism. Bauer describes a hopeless, renegade institution, devoid of compassion and decency.
When Bauer worked there, Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) operated the prison but lost its contract with the state in 2015 to LaSalle Corrections of Ruston. Let’s hope LaSalle runs a tighter ship than that which Bauer described.
As portrayed by Bauer, Winn, which houses more than 1,500 state inmates, was a dangerous place. CCA hired correctional officers after little or no vetting, he writes. When he applied, Bauer says he listed his employer on his application form as “Foundation for National Progress” (the entity that owns the magazine). He said CCA hired him as a $9-an-hour cadet in less than 24 hours, never bothering to question him about a teenage arrest for shoplifting.
Bauer describes a prison barely under CCA’s control. “Often, the only guard in a 352-inmate unit are the two officers and the key officer,” he wrote. “There is supposed to be an officer controlling the gate that connects each unit walk to the main unit, but often there isn’t.
“From 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays, every unit should have two case managers, who manage rehabilitation and re-entry program, two corrections counselors, who are in charge of resolving inmates’ daily issues, and a unit manager, who supervises everything. Not once do I see all these positions filled in a unit.” Bauer surreptitiously recorded and photographed much of what he observed and said he witnessed “corners cut daily.”
The concerns that you and I should have with this are many. First, it suggests that Louisiana Department of Corrections (DOC) officials were paying insufficient attention to Winn’s operation. That raises questions about procedures at dozens of parish prisons across Louisiana, where 75.5 percent of parish prison beds are occupied by state inmates (the highest percentage in the nation), all housed for less than $25 a day. “Lock and feed is what I call it,” DOC Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc candidly told a reporter recently.
Spend 20 minutes reading any one of Bauer’s stories and tell me if you feel comfortable knowing that people convicted of violent acts were supervised in such a cavalier fashion.
And, if like me, you also care about the rehabilitation of inmates the state will some day release into society, you should be troubled by the near-total absence of reentry programs and health and psychological services that Louisiana normally provides for inmates at state-run institutions, like Angola. “The big recreation yard sits empty most of the time,” Bauer wrote, explains. “There aren’t enough guards to watch over it.”
After his four months were up, Bauer says he spent more than a year continuing his investigation. CCA, for the record, denied or explained away almost every disturbing incident described in his report.
Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.