/How Gov Tate Reeves picked Burl Cain, the controversial former Angola warden, to oversee Mississippi prisons

How Gov Tate Reeves picked Burl Cain, the controversial former Angola warden, to oversee Mississippi prisons

In January, Reeves created a seven-member search committee to help him select the next chief of prisons. The chairman of the search committee, Vicksburg Mayor George Flaggs said that the committee received 55 applications. After narrowing down the applicant pool to three finalists (including Cain), the committee sent the names to Reeves. Flaggs, who was a former chairperson of the Mississippi House Corrections Committee, said this week that he had no influence over the process after he received the three finalists. “But I stand behind his work and the governor’s prerogative of appointing whomever he wants,” Flaggs, a former chair of the state House Corrections Committee, said this week. Many were critical of Reeves’ choice of Cain to lead the troubled Mississippi Department of Corrections. Cain, whose controversial career in corrections has been regularly featured in national headlines, resigned in Louisiana in 2015 following allegations that he had misused public funds. Since its inception, the Mississippi Department of Corrections is plagued by scandals. After Chris Epps was convicted and sentenced to 20 years in 2013, the scandal that plagued the Mississippi Department of Corrections came to national attention. Epps received bribes to give contracts to private contractors. The department was under national scrutiny earlier this year for violence in state prisons. At least three dozen state prisoners have been killed since January when Reeves was inaugurated. Reeves stated that “we cannot rush the crucial job of finding the new commissioner for the Department of Corrections,” when he announced the search committee in January. The escalating violence in state prisons has prompted massive protests and lawsuits by national celebrities. We must make this right for the people in Mississippi. “I am asking my fellow Mississippians for help in this mission.” Flaggs was joined by Leake County Sheriff Greg Waggoner and Hinds County District attorney Jody Owens. Harrison County District Attorney Joel Smith was also on the search committee. Kathy Henry, Steve Rushing, Lincoln County Sheriff, and Judge Sean Tindell, Mississippi Court of Appeals. Mississippi law requires that the prisons commissioner must have a bachelor’s degree. Flaggs stated that about half of the 55 applicants had this qualification. Flaggs stated, “I was surprised at the number of applicants. Good applicants.” Each member of the seven committee selected five top candidates from the large pool. The top choice received five points, while the second choice got four. Five finalists were chosen based on the points collected from all members of the committee. Flaggs stated that one of the five original finalists had dropped out. The committee then agreed to add another candidate, whose resume had been lost. The committee interviewed the final five candidates virtually. Tindell, who Reeves announced on Wednesday as the commissioner for Public Safety, was responsible for most of the interviewing of the finalists. The top three were then selected by the committee, which voted again. Reeves was then sent those names. Flaggs, who was chair, said that he didn’t participate in the final vote on the top three. Flaggs stated that he couldn’t reveal the names the other two finalists and that several people close to the search refused to identify the two other finalists. Flaggs did not comment on Cain’s selection, other than to state that he was selected through fair processes. Flaggs stated that he would not alter anything about the selection. Flaggs said that he didn’t know about the governor’s selection until he was present at Wednesday’s news conference, where Reeves made Cain the announcement. He said, “I didn’t know who it was until Burl Cain got out of his car just before the announcement.” A 2017 audit by Louisiana’s legislative watchdog found that Cain had 10 corrections workers working in his private residence. Some of these employees were apparently being paid by Louisiana. According to the audit, Cain was also a warden in Angola and received free appliances and flat-screen televisions totaling $27,000 as well as lodging in Angola for his family. Cain was also accused of conflict of interest in relation to real estate deals. Because he claimed he had reduced violence and crime in Angola, including by incorporating his Christian faith into the prison, he received national attention. Some criticised him for inflicting harsh punishments on a prison that was already well-known throughout the country. Reeves criticized Cain for imposing harsh punishments into a Louisiana prison. Cain said that he did not do anything wrong and that he had helped Angola grow its revenue through a prison rodeo, which had attracted national attention. Cain stated Wednesday that he believes it was important to emphasize the fact that the allegations were not true. “There was no crime. We must avoid any hint of impropriety. That will be our policy. “I have done that throughout all of my career.” Reeves, on the other hand, downplayed these allegations and increased his support for Cain this Week. The allegations were known to the search committee. Reeves stated Wednesday that he was aware of the allegations. “We did extensive research and it seems that the allegations were dropped once the politics were removed.” Reeves said: “I have complete confidence in Burl’s ability to transform the culture at the Department of Corrections. I am confident that he will make Mississippians proud. He is my absolute favorite candidate.”