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: 497790

Reported Deaths: 9917
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison34102530
DeSoto31839398
Hinds31837622
Jackson24314377
Rankin21881388
Lee15427234
Madison14525279
Jones13772241
Forrest13412250
Lauderdale11937314
Lowndes10934185
Lamar10470135
Pearl River9431237
Lafayette8454138
Hancock7697126
Washington7365156
Oktibbeha7111129
Monroe6727174
Warren6642176
Pontotoc6609101
Neshoba6606205
Panola6460131
Marshall6386132
Bolivar6266145
Union596094
Pike5784152
Alcorn5633101
Lincoln5417134
George491879
Scott470998
Tippah465381
Prentiss464181
Leflore4627143
Itawamba4596104
Adams4570119
Tate4546109
Copiah445191
Simpson4421116
Wayne438572
Yazoo438586
Covington427394
Marion4216107
Sunflower4215104
Coahoma4115104
Leake407787
Newton380879
Grenada3692108
Stone358464
Tishomingo356391
Attala330289
Jasper328265
Winston313191
Clay306375
Chickasaw296767
Clarke290694
Calhoun277945
Holmes266987
Smith262550
Yalobusha232647
Tallahatchie225251
Walthall217763
Greene215548
Lawrence211140
Perry204755
Amite203954
Webster201645
Noxubee185340
Montgomery179056
Jefferson Davis170642
Carroll167438
Tunica158639
Benton147438
Kemper141241
Choctaw133026
Claiborne131237
Humphreys129038
Franklin119128
Quitman106227
Wilkinson104539
Jefferson94234
Sharkey64020
Issaquena1937
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 814025

Reported Deaths: 15179
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1140561910
Mobile722691323
Madison52017686
Shelby37304341
Baldwin37087540
Tuscaloosa34966599
Montgomery33971725
Lee23149240
Calhoun22159470
Morgan20659372
Etowah19764496
Marshall18254300
Houston17310405
St. Clair15921337
Cullman15325290
Limestone15222198
Elmore15086284
Lauderdale14157294
Talladega13723272
DeKalb12574259
Walker11089366
Blount10102174
Autauga9901146
Jackson9793180
Coffee9182189
Dale8864181
Colbert8791200
Tallapoosa7044195
Escambia6743127
Covington6685179
Chilton6592160
Russell626158
Franklin5935105
Chambers5560142
Marion4958126
Dallas4889199
Clarke473482
Pike4720105
Geneva4564126
Winston4476101
Lawrence4266117
Bibb421786
Barbour355675
Marengo334089
Monroe330462
Randolph327663
Butler324894
Pickens313982
Henry311265
Hale309487
Cherokee300057
Fayette290979
Washington251151
Cleburne247058
Crenshaw243775
Clay240767
Macon230762
Lamar217846
Conecuh185652
Coosa178838
Lowndes174161
Wilcox167738
Bullock151744
Perry138040
Sumter131138
Greene125844
Choctaw87027
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