With more than 6,000 inmates, the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola is the biggest lockup in the state that incarcerates the most people per capita. The sprawling prison in West Feliciana Parish is roughly the size of Manhattan.
Overseeing an operation that large ought to be a full time job, and it pays well, with a salary of $167,211. But somehow warden Burl Cain always found time to get entangled in complex business deals, at least two of which compromised his ability to run the prison and may have violated Corrections’ personnel rules.
One of the people who joined him in his other business ventures was his boss and good friend, Jimmy LeBlanc. The two are so cozy that when the department launched a probe into Cain’s business ties to a relative and a friend of Angola inmates, LeBlanc recused himself. Luckily the business deals are being probed, not just by the Corrections office but also by the Legislative Auditor’s Office.
It will be interesting to see what Gov.-elect John Bel Edwards makes of the mess at Corrections.
Cain, 73, has announced his retirement, sparing the new governor from figuring out what to do with him.
Since then, the state Inspector General’s Office has announced another probe of the longtime warden.
The probes by Corrections and the legislative auditor focus on Cain’s real estate deals with the stepfather of one inmate and a friend of another offender. Both prisoners were offered favorable treatment not available to most of the men behind bars. The business deals appeared to go against corrections rules prohibiting “nonprofessional relationships” between employees and inmates’ friends and relatives.
The newest probe, by the inspector general, is a criminal investigation whose focus has not been disclosed.
Edwards is in a tough spot, since he won a key endorsement from the state sheriffs’ association and the sheriffs have been muscular supporters of Cain and LeBlanc — who control the flow of state inmates needed to fill overbuilt jails in many parishes.
But taxpayers will not be impressed if the governor chooses a business-as-usual approach.
For one thing, LeBlanc’s friendship and business relationship with Cain raise questions about whether the swashbuckling Angola warden was supervised appropriately.
Department personnel rules require that “mail or phone calls received from offenders or their families outside the normal course and scope of the employee’s job duties must be reported at the earliest opportunity to the employee’s supervisor.”
But Corrections officials have never responded to questions about whether Cain reported to his supervisor on his business ties to the allies of the two inmates.
Louisiana needs a fresh start at Corrections, especially if Edwards aims to fulfill his promise to end our state’s reign as America’s leading jailer.
One place to look might be Texas, where liberals concerned about incarceration and conservatives worried about government spending have worked in concert to control the state’s prison rolls.