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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: 111322

Reported Deaths: 3202
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds7796173
DeSoto670178
Harrison484483
Jackson435081
Rankin383786
Madison373993
Lee344979
Forrest296377
Jones283782
Washington252197
Lafayette242642
Lauderdale2376131
Lamar217138
Bolivar198377
Oktibbeha195854
Neshoba1814111
Lowndes174962
Panola166337
Leflore160787
Sunflower157649
Warren152755
Monroe145972
Pontotoc143819
Pike137256
Lincoln135555
Copiah135036
Marshall134826
Scott123829
Coahoma123436
Grenada120038
Yazoo119333
Simpson118649
Union115225
Holmes113560
Leake113340
Tate113239
Itawamba110424
Pearl River108958
Adams104343
Prentiss102619
Wayne98721
Alcorn96012
George93917
Marion92942
Covington92525
Tippah85921
Newton84427
Chickasaw82625
Winston82221
Tallahatchie81825
Tishomingo79341
Hancock78127
Attala77626
Clarke72349
Clay67621
Jasper67417
Walthall63327
Calhoun61412
Noxubee59617
Smith58316
Claiborne53216
Montgomery52923
Tunica52217
Lawrence49914
Yalobusha49314
Perry48122
Carroll46312
Greene45518
Stone45014
Amite41713
Quitman4146
Humphreys41216
Jefferson Davis39811
Webster36613
Wilkinson33020
Kemper32015
Benton3154
Sharkey27814
Jefferson27010
Franklin2373
Choctaw2036
Issaquena1063
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 153016

Reported Deaths: 2633
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson22563372
Mobile14335314
Tuscaloosa10023133
Montgomery9759196
Madison904893
Shelby709960
Lee644966
Baldwin640569
Marshall428248
Calhoun412759
Etowah405749
Morgan396833
Houston364632
DeKalb319628
Elmore310752
St. Clair282142
Limestone270828
Walker268892
Talladega258435
Cullman227623
Lauderdale208740
Autauga201029
Jackson200915
Franklin199731
Colbert192228
Russell19053
Dallas185627
Blount184824
Chilton181731
Escambia171328
Coffee16669
Covington166029
Dale163451
Pike130512
Chambers130143
Tallapoosa128686
Clarke127117
Marion104729
Butler99840
Barbour9889
Marengo97221
Winston90413
Geneva8417
Pickens80517
Lawrence80031
Randolph79814
Bibb79114
Hale74529
Cherokee72214
Clay71912
Lowndes70127
Henry6376
Bullock63517
Monroe6319
Washington62212
Crenshaw59330
Perry5806
Wilcox55912
Conecuh55713
Fayette55312
Cleburne5287
Macon52820
Sumter46721
Lamar4565
Choctaw38712
Greene33916
Coosa1973
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