Mississippi prisons get controversial new leader

NEMiss.news Burl Cain nominated to head MS Dept. of Corrections
This portrait of Burl Cain is by "visual artist" Blake Boyd. It was for a collection of "art photographs,' apparently still incomplete.
May 21st, 2020     Featured General News

Northeast MS – Nathan Burl Cain, who will be 78 years old on July 2, has been nominated to head the troubled Mississippi Department of Corrections. The appointment was announced yesterday by Governor Tate Reeves at his daily press conference.

Controversial dealings in previous job

A controversial figure for many years, Cain resigned at age 74 in January 2016, after having been warden at Angola, the Louisiana State Prison, for 21 years. He had been accused of real estate dealings that violated policies of the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections. Specifically, he had engaged in private real estate dealings with relatives and friends of favored Angola inmates.

Additionally, an audit by the Louisiana legislature said Cain had corrections department employees doing work on his private property. He was also said to have improperly obtained appliances, furnishings and building materials, with a total value of about $27,000, for himself and family members.

However, as Cain pointed out at the press conference yesterday in Jackson, he was not indicted. Reeves said, “We did extensive research, and it seems like once the politics were removed, the accusations were basically dropped.”

Both friends and enemies in Louisiana have referred to Cain as “Boss Hogg,” after the character portrayed by actor Sorrell Booke in the TV series the “Dukes of Hazzard.”

Evangelical Christianity program reduced violence at Angola

Cain was credited with reducing violence at Angola during his time there, and widely praised for developing a program of evangelical Christianity. He and others claimed the program was key to reducing violence at the facility, the largest prison in the United States.

He was also criticized for favoring prisoners who adopted his version of Christianity, but not allowing practitioners other Christian traditions to engage in their own kind of worship.

Responding to criticism, Cain said in an interview several years ago:

“I believe that the mission of modern corrections is to protect the public by correcting deviant behavior through moral rehabilitation. I have faith in people, and moral people are not criminals. If we want prison systems that accept a 50% recidivism rate, then we have business as usual and change is not in order. Angola is a safe prison, we have a staff of professional correctional employees (60% of whom are female), and manage over 6300 adult male inmates, of which over 95% won’t ever be released.

“It’s safe for anyone to walk anywhere within the 18,000 acre prison, without cat calls or disrespect. We tour over 2,000 people each month, from 12 years old and up, without incident, as part of our public service of education and crime deterrence. We are visited by criminal justice professionals from around the world and many states are copying our programs and events to experience the type of reduction in inmate on inmate violence that Angola has accomplished over the last 18 years.

“If this is bad, then we should go back as we were. Personally, I do not attend church, except occasionally at the prison. I am proud that the Louisiana State Penitentiary is recognized and accredited by the American Correctional Association as being a great model facility, whose operational policies and procedures exemplify what is best in achieving less recidivism and less victimization,” Cain concluded.

Senate must approve Cain’s nomination to post

The Mississippi Department of Corrections has been plagued by a high rate of violence in recent months. More than 30 prisoners have died in state custody this year.

Burl Cain’s appointment as Director of Corrections is subject to approval by the State Senate and will likely be considered next month, near the end of the 2020 legislative session.

The photograph of Burl Cain at the top of this story is by visual artist Blake Boyd. Boyd has put together a collection of hundreds of what he calls “documentary portraits,” most shot with a Polaroid camera, of Louisiana people. Called “Louisiana Cereal,” Boyd’s collection was displayed at the New Orleans Museum of Art.

Boyd’s collection: https://www.wwno.org/post/inside-arts-louisiana-cereal-pride-place-vices-virtues

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