Analysis: Mississippi prisons nominee faces Senate scrutiny

The nominee to lead Mississippi's troubled prison system, Burl Cain, spent 21 years as warden of Louisiana's Angola penitentiary, resigning in early 2016 amid ethics questions about how public money was spent during his tenure.

Posted: May 24, 2020 9:32 PM

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The nominee to lead Mississippi's troubled prison system, Burl Cain, spent 21 years as warden of Louisiana's Angola penitentiary, resigning in early 2016 amid ethics questions about how public money was spent during his tenure.

Advocates for inmates' rights have also condemned his work.

“Burl Cain left a legacy of corruption, cruelty and callous disregard for the human lives in his custody," the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana, Alanah Odoms Hebert, said Thursday.

She issued the statement a day after Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves announced he's nominating Cain to become corrections commissioner in this state. Reeves said he has “zero reservations” about Cain's work in Louisiana and that under Cain's guidance, Angola “went from beatings to Bible study.”

“I have absolute, full confidence in Burl Cain’s ability to change the culture at the Mississippi Department of Corrections," Reeves said.

For years, Mississippi prisons have operated with tight budgets and have struggled to hire enough guards because of low pay, long hours and dangerous conditions. Outbursts of violence in late December and early January left several inmates dead or injured. Lawsuits filed on behalf of prisoners say living conditions are unsanitary. And the U.S. Justice Department announced in February that it is investigating the Mississippi prison system.

Reeves became governor in mid-January, about two weeks after the previous corrections commissioner, Pelicia Hall, resigned. Reeves soon appointed a committee to search for a new commissioner. He recalled on Wednesday: “I asked them to find me the best possible person in America."

Cain thanked Reeves and the search committee.

“I promise to do a great job, to help the Department of Corrections and to do the four components that’s essential to have a good prison — that’s good food, good praying, good playing and good medicine,” Cain said.

In the next few weeks, Cain will face a confirmation hearing in the state Senate Corrections Committee. Chairman Juan Barnett, a Democrat from Heidelberg, told The Associated Press on Friday that he will review Cain's record and would like to have a private conversation with him in addition to at least one hearing that will be open to the public.

Barnett said he thinks Reeves and the search committee would not have chosen Cain if they thought the former warden would “damage” or embarrass Mississippi.

“I think the whole of America, we're going to have to start trusting in somebody,” Barnett said.

A 2017 Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s Office report said nearly $28,000 in public money was used for the unauthorized purchase of appliances and household furnishings for Cain’s home on prison grounds at Angola. It also said Cain’s relatives stayed overnight in state-owned homes at the prison nearly 200 times.

Cain resigned a year before the audit was issued, after the Baton Rouge newspaper, The Advocate, reported that he had sold interest in tracts of land to two developers who were friends or family of two murder convicts at Angola.

Cain said in Mississippi last week that allegations against him in Louisiana were “unfounded" and that “there were no crimes committed.”

Mississippi has one of the highest incarceration rates in the nation. The director of the MacArthur Justice Center at the University of Mississippi, Cliff Johnson, said Friday that crowded prisons and long sentences are “a recipe for chaos and violence.”

Johnson is not taking a public position on whether lawmakers should confirm Cain, but said he wants legislators to change some sentencing laws and to expand eligibility for parole.

“If the Legislature doesn't give the new commissioner the tools, then it doesn't much matter who we hire," Johnson said.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 118587

Reported Deaths: 3310
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds8050179
DeSoto728580
Harrison549185
Jackson480088
Rankin404686
Madison386194
Lee366582
Forrest311878
Jones296684
Washington2627100
Lafayette255043
Lauderdale2546135
Lamar231940
Oktibbeha204855
Bolivar203979
Neshoba1868111
Lowndes181962
Panola172040
Leflore170688
Sunflower164349
Warren156156
Monroe153873
Pontotoc150620
Marshall148430
Lincoln143359
Pike140656
Copiah139336
Scott127029
Coahoma125837
Union125825
Yazoo123434
Simpson123149
Grenada122939
Tate121039
Itawamba117226
Leake116342
Pearl River116360
Holmes115060
Adams109445
Prentiss109220
Alcorn104512
Wayne102722
George101719
Covington98829
Marion95943
Tippah94924
Newton87227
Hancock86828
Chickasaw86727
Tallahatchie85526
Winston85221
Tishomingo82741
Attala80527
Clarke77053
Clay71022
Jasper69617
Walthall64427
Calhoun63313
Noxubee60217
Smith60216
Yalobusha56416
Montgomery55823
Lawrence54414
Claiborne53916
Tunica53717
Perry52423
Carroll50312
Stone49114
Greene48118
Humphreys45117
Amite42813
Quitman4236
Jefferson Davis42112
Webster37813
Benton36710
Wilkinson34221
Kemper33315
Sharkey28715
Jefferson27910
Franklin2513
Choctaw2096
Issaquena1074
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 161537

Reported Deaths: 2718
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson23769383
Mobile17039318
Tuscaloosa10539141
Montgomery10435199
Madison946798
Shelby756365
Baldwin674369
Lee662465
Calhoun468962
Marshall445251
Etowah436552
Morgan426335
Houston421234
DeKalb351229
Elmore326558
St. Clair307042
Limestone295131
Walker285593
Talladega273937
Cullman260025
Lauderdale237143
Jackson221917
Autauga210331
Colbert208232
Franklin207732
Blount198825
Russell19763
Chilton190932
Dallas188127
Coffee182611
Dale180852
Covington176729
Escambia175331
Clarke138017
Chambers137047
Pike135514
Tallapoosa135387
Marion110331
Barbour10459
Marengo103522
Butler101541
Winston94313
Geneva9357
Lawrence87733
Pickens87418
Bibb85615
Randolph84316
Hale78030
Cherokee76114
Clay75812
Washington75412
Henry7286
Lowndes71728
Monroe66010
Bullock65017
Crenshaw61130
Perry5966
Fayette59413
Cleburne5779
Wilcox57112
Conecuh56513
Macon54120
Lamar5165
Sumter47721
Choctaw39412
Greene34616
Coosa2143
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