The longtime warden of the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, the state’s largest prison and keeper of death row, is resigning amid questions raised by The Advocate about his private real estate dealings.
On Wednesday, Warden Burl Cain said he was stepping down Jan. 1. In a television interview, he said the decision was “devastating.”
In the interview with WAFB-TV, he also reportedly brushed off charges of possible wrongdoing in real estate dealings outlined against him by The Advocate in November.
Cain — a Republican and considered one of the state’s most powerful figures — has run the maximum-security prison, commonly known as Angola, since 1995.
During his tenure, the 73-year-old warden has been credited with improving conditions and decreasing violence at the working prison farm, which has 3,600 inmates confined on 18,000 acres, land where once slaves worked on a plantation. Cain is also known for pushing the expansion of religious outreach at Angola, which has eight churches.
Cain’s tenure, though, has not been without blemishes and questions.
The most recent questions arose from The Advocate's investigative reporting. The newspaper questioned whether Cain violated a policy against having a “nonprofessional” relationship with “offenders or with offenders’ families or friends.” Specifically, the newspaper reported that Cain sold interest in tracts of West Feliciana Parish land to two developers who were friends or family of two murderers at Angola.
On Sunday, the newspaper also reported that the Louisiana legislative auditor and the state Department of Public Safety and Corrections had opened probes into the matter.
In the WAFB interview, Cain said he told his wife about his decision to step down the night before. “We could hardly sleep last night,” he said. “It’s pretty devastating.”
He said the decision to step down ends four decades of work in the prison system. “You give up everything,” he said. “You have to make a new life.”
Cain’s prison, meanwhile, is the subject of an ongoing federal lawsuit about heat levels. A federal judge ruled in December 2013 that death row gets so hot that it violates U.S. constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment and demanded a cooling plan. State officials are appealing the ruling.
Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc called Cain a leader in prison reforms and praised him for establishing the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary at Angola and helping bring chapels to other state prisons. He also applauded the warden for his work in rehabilitating inmates.
“Other states have followed Warden Cain’s lead and mimicked programs and policies he instituted over the years,” LeBlanc said.
Alida Anthony, whose son was murdered by a man who received preferential treatment from Cain, told The Advocate she was elated at the news.
“I’m so excited. ... It’s a miracle,” she said Thursday morning.
After The Advocate’s story on Cain’s business dealings with the inmate’s family last month, Anthony had called for the warden’s removal.