There has been no response so far to allegations that mentally ill inmates at a Louisiana prison have been forced to kneel and bark for food, but Warden Jerry Goodwin will no doubt be raising the issue at staff meetings.

He will probably do so as well at the dinner table, for we know he puts great faith in family judgment. In fact, he will get the same feedback at work and at home, for he has just promoted his wife Kayla Sherman to be his assistant at the David Wade Correctional Center in Homer.

It has long been apparent that the key to advancement in the state Corrections Department is to be married, or otherwise related, to the boss. Sure, we have laws against nepotism, but they leave plenty of room to cut kin some slack.

Last year The Advocate compiled a Corrections Department management chart with mugshots of those two old pals Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc and discredited ex-Angola Warden Burl Cain in the middle. Lines traced out to their cronies and relations in key jobs. There were so many the chart looked like a generous helping of spaghetti.

Sherman's promotion is pretty small beer compared to the dramatic improvement in the fortunes of Tonia Rachal at the Avoyelles Parish slammer when she hooked up with the warden, Burl Cain's son Nate. Nate Cain appointed Rachal business manager — nobody else saw any point in applying — and then married her.

Nate and Tonia Cain allegedly lived high on the hog at public expense, and both quit their jobs while under investigation last year. She now awaits trial for stealing large amounts of prison cash and cooking the books, and such is the litany of Nate Cain's alleged crimes that there may well be an indictment in his future too.

Although Tonia Cain was promoted before she married Nate, there would have been nothing to prevent his favoring her once they were man and wife. Civil Service rules allow immediate family members to be promoted so long as they were on the payroll for a year before the agency head was appointed. With the likes of the Cains around, abuses will always occur in a Corrections Department that is a byword for corruption and cronyism.

Kayla Sherman has worked at the Homer prison since 1993, and Jerry Goodwin became warden in 2008. Her promotion from “Assistant Program Specialist” brought her a raise of $8,000 a year to $64,500, so this is not an occasion for maximum outrage. But any time the boss's wife gets a break, the rank-and-file will grumble. Maybe more than the say-so of a close relation should be required for promotions, but the Corrections Department appears unperturbed by its reputation for clannishness and conflicts of interests.

The state Ethics Board, however, is sufficiently alarmed to have launched an investigation into the Corrections Department's $7 million plan to convert and occupy an old police building in Baton Rouge. The architectural firm chosen for the job, which was not put out on bid, is owned by Jerry Hebert, who happens to be married to Leblanc's niece.

In the circumstances, it is unlikely that the possibility of nepotism in some distant hoosegow is going to be of any concern at HQ. Neither will it be the main worry at David Wade. If the allegations in the lawsuit filed by the Advocacy Center are proven, surely some heads must roll, regardless of family connections.

The picture that emerges from the lawsuit is like a madhouse of centuries ago. Not only were prisoners allegedly made to bark for food, but they were stripped in winter, beaten, kicked and sprayed with mace and bleach. Investigators and attorneys who sought to provide some relief for inmates were blocked by prison staff at every turn.

Gov. John Bel Edwards' focus, meanwhile, is on reducing Louisiana's prison population, which is the highest, per capita, in the world and has become a major job creator. Thus does prison work run in many a Louisiana family, making nepotism inevitable.

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