Burl Cain says he was flattered by supporters who encouraged him earlier this year to enter the governor’s race, though the longtime Louisiana State Penitentiary warden doesn’t think the state is ready for his style of leadership.
“I would have built a loop, a tall loop around Baton Rouge to address the traffic problem, and I wouldn’t have held any town meetings,” Cain said in a speech to the Rotary Club of Baton Rouge this afternoon that focused on the improvements at the prison during his 20-year tenure. “I’d just go ahead and hire the best engineers and get it done. When I want to do something, I do it and don’t ask permission. I don’t think people are ready for that.”
Cain’s audience would probably have elected him on the spot, judging from the warm reception his loop comment generated and also by the laughs he got throughout his speech. Though Cain is a prison warden—the longest-serving prison warden in the U.S.—he clearly knows a thing or two about politics, taking command of a room with an easy, down-home demeanor and a running stream of deadpan quips that punctuate the sentences he delivers in a thick West Feliciana Parish accent.
Since taking the helm at Angola in the mid-1990s, the prison once know as “The Alcatraz of the South” has undergone a transformation that has generated national attention. Cain calls it moral rehabilitation and attributes it to the presence of the Bible College, which the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary opened at the prison in 1996. The college graduates students with four-year degrees who now teach the inmate voc-tech training programs Angola also offers.
Cain says having fellow inmates serve as teachers not only saves the state money but is a more effective way of rehabilitating the inmate population, which numbers more than 6,000.
“Things really started to change when we graduated the inmates to be mentors and teachers,” he said. “That changed the culture of the prison.”
It also decreased incidents of inmate violence by 75% and has virtually freed the prison from use of all profanity, he says.
“Corrections means correct deviant behavior,” Cain said. “It doesn’t mean torture, torment, lock and feed.”
Angola currently has about 1,400 inmates enrolled in its various educational programs. It graduates about 300 a year. The programs are funded entirely by a prison rodeo, which is held annually on weekends in October and April.
“Angola is a much safer place today,” he said. “That’s why I’m still here.”