But getting a job with the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) – rebranded CoreCivic in 2016 – was easy for Bauer. The decision-makers did not ask him about his résumé, his background in journalism or his arrest for shoplifting when he was 19. “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,” a CCA training manager told him.
Founded in 1983 by Thomas Beasley and T. Don Hutto, CoreCivic currently operates 65 state and federal detention and correctional centers, with a combined capacity for 90,000 inmates. Its revenue in 2016 was $1.85 billion; its gross profit – $574 million. Historically, CCA’s success can be traced to the expansion of the criminal justice system during the 1980s and 1990s. During that period overcrowding in public correctional facilities, the war on drugs and stricter sentencing regimes were all a boon to the private prison industry.
Bauer was for his part assigned to Winn Correctional Center in the heart of Louisiana’s Kisatchie National Forest. The facility comprises several X-shaped prison units, with four dormitories, or “tiers,” branching out from a central control room known as “the key.” The units were named after trees, and each had its own traits. Ash and Elm had a reputation for troublemakers while Bauer was there, whereas Dogwood was for well-behaved “trusties.” The high-security Cypress, meanwhile, was a segregation unit with private cells.