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La. Department of Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc.

Oh yes, everything's jake with you this fine Christmas season.

You get to relax in the bosom of the family, and maybe reconnect for the first time since last year with uncles and the spouses of second cousins once removed.

Blood is thicker than water for sure, as you swap presents and sip the eggnog. God bless us, every one.

But it behooves us all to honor the spirit of the season as our hearts go out to those who are denied the joy of an annual reunion with kith and kin. For some Christmas is a day just like any other.

I know what you are saying to yourself. “Typical bleeding-heart liberal media. Gill's probably gone all sappy over the inmates of the state pen.”

Close, but, even in the Christmas season, no cigar. It's not the prisoners we must feel sorry for, because they can always look forward to reforging the family bonds on some future Christmas. For their keepers, however, it will be the same old faces every day of every year until they staff the joint no more. Gathering around the conifer is much less of an occasion for the custodians of our felons, because their relatives are their co-workers too.

Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc does not need to show up at a Christmas party to find out how his nieces are doing, for instance. One is a deputy warden; another just interviewed with him for a promotion.

The Corrections Department's organizational chart resembles a genealogical exercise with all arrows pointing in the direction of LeBlanc or his old pal, the former Angola warden Burl Cain. It is lucky for the LeBlanc and Cain families that Louisiana, as world leader in incarceration rates, offers a wealth of career opportunities in the prison business.

LeBlanc nevertheless says he shares Gov. John Bel Edwards' hope that Louisiana will lose the distinction of locking up a greater percentage of its citizens than the looniest dictatorship. We have 2,400 fewer inmates than we had in 2013, according to LeBlanc.

Corrections employees, meanwhile, have not always proven morally superior to the inmates, and corruption has been rife during LeBlanc's tenure. Edwards nevertheless puts his faith in LeBlanc to straighten out the department in addition to presiding over a further reduction in the prison population.

LeBlanc is widely regarded as the best man for the job, which he has held since Bobby Jindal became governor in 2008. He is the only Jindal cabinet member Edwards chose to retain, and his Senate confirmation hearing was unrelieved kissy face.

By then, however, LeBlanc's old pal Cain had been forced out at Angola over business deals with associates of inmates granted preferential treatment. Cain's son, Nate and daughter-in-law, were also heading for the heave-ho on account of various liberties they took when running the Avoyelles Parish penitentiary. Other staffers were then accused of embezzlement and, just this week, an assistant warden was booked with rape on the prison grounds.

None of this can be laid directly at LeBlanc's door, but he must bear responsibility for a crooked staff. LeBlanc has complained that he has been kept in the dark about the misdeeds of subordinates, but perhaps that's because no one at the Corrections Department is going to rat out a colleague without first considering whether family connections would make it unwise.

Louisiana does have laws against nepotism, but nieces, nephews, grandchildren and cousins are not covered.

Corrections may be a family business, but it's also a major industry that feeds a lot of mouths. Attempts to downsize the operation will therefore meet stern resistance, sheriffs in the vanguard. Just over half our state prisoners are farmed out to local jails, with a hefty chunk of what they earn on work release, in addition to a per diem from LeBlanc's department, going to the sheriffs.

It's like Christmas every day in courthouses all over Louisiana.

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