Burl Cain isn’t ready to say whether he will run for governor this year, but the longtime warden of the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola on Monday downplayed complaints over the heat on Louisiana’s death row, touted budget cutbacks that have been made at the prison while the inmate population has grown and shied away from opining on recent controversies over the drugs used in lethal injections.
Speaking to the Baton Rouge Press Club, Cain, a Republican starting his 20th year over the nation’s largest maximum-security prison, wouldn’t outline a timeline for deciding whether to run for governor. He said some people have been encouraging him to do so through social media and by erecting a large sign along Interstate 10 in Lafayette, but he would have to quit his prison job before he could begin any formal plans for a possible run.
“As of now, I’m not a candidate at this time,” Cain said in his heavy Southern drawl. “I’m praying about it, and I’m contemplating it.”
At least four candidates already have entered this year’s gubernatorial race: Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter, Republican Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle, Republican Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne and Democratic state Rep. John Bel Edwards, of Amite.
Cain said he didn’t want to discuss their qualifications or what he could bring to the Governor’s Office after spending more than three decades in the corrections field.
The bulk of Cain’s talk Monday centered on his experience at Angola, which houses more than 6,300 inmates.
“What’s cool about it is we call it the ‘Land of new beginnings,’ ” he said of the prison’s status as a small city unto itself. “It is a gigantic place; it’s the same size as the island of Manhattan.”
Temperatures inside Angola’s death row, which is home to about 85 inmates, have spawned an ongoing lawsuit from inmates who claim that it’s unreasonably hot — with heat indices, or measurements of how hot it feels, reaching 172 degrees in 2012 and 195 degrees in 2011, the suit alleges.
A judge in 2013 ruled that the heat on the row was a form of “cruel and unusual punishment,” but Cain said no work has been done on installing air conditioning to cool the area pending the appeals process. A judge ruled last year that prison leaders don’t have to move forward with the changes until the lawsuit reaches its final outcome.
“I don’t want to air-condition it. … We’d have to air-condition the entire place,” Cain said. “You can’t afford it.”
He largely dismissed concerns over the summer temperatures, calling death row “not that unbearably hot,” and said other parts of Angola get hotter than death row does.
“‘It’s not 170 degrees. It doesn’t boil,” he said. “It’s just like your house would be if you didn’t turn the air conditioning on.”
Cain said he supports the death penalty but deemed discussions over the drugs used in lethal injections as “out of my realm.”
Louisiana’s last execution was five years ago. State officials and advocates have expressed concern recently over the state’s method of executing prisoners, following botched injections in other states last year.
Executions here have been put on hold at least through later this year.
Cain said his philosophy of rehabilitating offenders — even those who will spend the rest of their lives in Angola — has been to focus on religion as a means of teaching morality.
“Getting someone to become a moral person is just common sense,” he said. “If you’re a moral person, you’re not gonna go out robbing and stealing. If you’re immoral, you will.”
He said, using that philosophy, he felt that morality best comes through religion.
“It doesn’t matter which religion; I could care less,” he said. “Well, don’t be Satanic or something that’s going to advocate violence — just be moral.”