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.

Cases: 307836

Reported Deaths: 7119
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto20784248
Hinds19894408
Harrison17493302
Rankin13316275
Jackson13099243
Madison9896210
Lee9859169
Jones8293160
Forrest7523146
Lauderdale7189237
Lowndes6265144
Lamar610784
Lafayette6028117
Washington5280132
Bolivar4770129
Oktibbeha455297
Panola4442103
Pearl River4420139
Warren4281118
Marshall4273100
Pontotoc416472
Monroe4057132
Union403775
Neshoba3988176
Lincoln3871108
Hancock372185
Leflore3468124
Sunflower329389
Tate322781
Pike3181104
Scott310572
Yazoo304368
Alcorn297764
Itawamba296876
Copiah293065
Coahoma289677
Simpson287484
Tippah284868
Prentiss275659
Marion265979
Wayne261341
Leake261173
Grenada254982
Covington254580
Adams245982
Newton244859
George237847
Winston225981
Tishomingo222067
Jasper219748
Attala213373
Chickasaw204857
Holmes186471
Clay182454
Stone179131
Clarke176876
Tallahatchie175540
Calhoun163230
Yalobusha158836
Smith158634
Walthall130543
Greene129433
Lawrence126323
Noxubee125933
Montgomery125542
Perry125138
Carroll120826
Amite120141
Webster113432
Jefferson Davis105432
Tunica102525
Claiborne101330
Benton97225
Kemper95226
Humphreys94332
Franklin81923
Quitman78916
Choctaw72817
Jefferson64828
Wilkinson64727
Sharkey49617
Issaquena1686
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 519071

Reported Deaths: 10712
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson754131487
Mobile37774798
Madison33868494
Tuscaloosa25283443
Montgomery23969565
Shelby23112238
Baldwin20638300
Lee15524165
Calhoun14286311
Morgan14140268
Etowah13664345
Marshall11957219
Houston10383278
Elmore9994200
Limestone9814147
Cullman9475188
St. Clair9429234
Lauderdale9218227
DeKalb8747181
Talladega8060171
Walker7092275
Jackson6755110
Autauga6727103
Blount6488135
Colbert6205130
Coffee5401112
Dale4768110
Russell428938
Franklin419982
Chilton4083109
Covington4053114
Tallapoosa3893146
Escambia388074
Dallas3527149
Chambers3500122
Clarke346360
Marion3066100
Pike305875
Lawrence295395
Winston272372
Bibb256458
Marengo248661
Geneva245875
Pickens232959
Barbour224955
Hale218775
Butler212366
Fayette208960
Henry187844
Cherokee182044
Randolph176941
Monroe171540
Washington164038
Macon154848
Clay149454
Crenshaw149357
Cleburne146041
Lamar139334
Lowndes136453
Wilcox124327
Bullock121340
Conecuh109028
Perry107926
Sumter102932
Coosa99328
Greene90734
Choctaw58724
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