Controversial cain Thanks largely to movies filmed there (including Dead Man Walking) and an award-winning documentary about its inmates (The Farm), Angola—and the spiritual victory of those who overcome its tough life—is known nationally. But a Louisiana legislator who has chaired a Senate committee overseeing prisons is unimpressed with the penitentiary and with warden Burl Cain.
"They do what they want," says Senator Don Cravins. "There is no accountability."
Asserting that 65 to 75 percent of inmates return to the state's prisons after their release, Cravins says "the whole system has gone awry." He claims that "there are no meaningful recidivism programs," but Department of Corrections statistics show that recidivism rates over the past four years at prisons with faith-based programs are 32 percent; that contrasts with overall figures of 50 to 54 percent for Louisiana's prisons.
The prison has long been famous for its twice-annual rodeo. The 1998 book God of the Rodeo showed how the event put prisoners' lives at risk. While researching the book, author Daniel Bergner sued Cain in state court, claiming the warden tried to wrest editorial control of the book and charge him $50,000 for continued access to the prison. Cain denied Bergner's accusations, and the Department of Corrections settled the case out of court.
Cain also has been held in contempt by a federal judge in a lawsuit filed by a prisoner who claimed he was punished for blowing the whistle on the prison's canned-food re-labeling business, run with inmate labor.
A 1998 Senate committee hearing chaired by Cravins accused Cain of allowing a businessman to keep horses at the prison and of squelching the award-winning inmate magazine, The Angolite. Cain admitted the ...1