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The Cain Way: MDOC Commissioner trying to right the ship within Miss. prisons (Part 2)

Updated: Feb. 11, 2021 at 9:17 PM CST
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - New Mississippi Department of Corrections Commissioner Burl Cain faces a laundry list of issues with Mississippi’s prisons that need fixes. The need for action is also prompted by Justice Department scrutiny.

WLBT’s Howard Ballou continued his conversation with Commissioner Cain with a look at where he is 8 months into the job and an exclusive sneak peak at some of the changes already in place.

[CLICK HERE TO READ PART 1 OF THIS CONVERSATION]

By his own admission, Burl Cain is a fast worker. He said he likes to get things done right away. That’s pretty obvious considering what he’s already accomplished in his first 8 months at the helm of the Mississippi Department of Corrections.

”What was wrong here was headquarters; you were sailing the ship from the shore,” Cain said. “This is the shore and the prison is the ship in the ocean. (It) has a captain, but the captain wasn’t running the ship. It was running from here. And you can’t do that in the prison business. You gotta sail the ship with the captain.”

The mess hall inside Unit 29 at Parchman is an example. And there are so many other repairs, replacements and upgrades, not only at Parchman, but other prisons in the state system.

Unit 29 - Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman
Unit 29 - Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman(WLBT)

”Right now, there are no holes in the walls,” Cain said. “The roofs don’t leak. Parchman is painted. It’s clean. It looks good. It’s like new. Now, the other thing is, we were sued over food. We were sued over that, so now the food contractor, and they’re a good contractor, but in our case, they weren’t good, because they were named in the suit, so we don’t have them anymore. We’re gonna prepare our own food and the first of April, we’ll have our first meal and we’re going to raise our food as much as we can at Parchman; we’ll save dollars and we’ve reduced our budget about a million and a half dollars for food.”

There are 17,000 inmates in the MDOC system and Cain makes it his mission to be personally aware of what goes on in all of the facilities, whether being there in person or through video conferencing.

”Because our goal is for the federal government not to take us over. We’re not gonna need to be letting someone else tell us how to run our prison.” said Cain.

Cain is also taking a proactive approach to keeping inmates and staff safe from COVID-19, investing in high-tech sanitization like disinfecting stations and UV sterilization, as well as social distancing and other CDC guidelines. MDOC reports 22 coronavirus inmate deaths, so far: the lowest in the southern states.

”So, what we decided to do, the smartest thing to do was spend our money on prevention, pour the money. Then you don’t have it. That’s what happens. We have the least amount of deaths, so when its all said and done, what counts is the least amount of deaths, so we won that war.”

He’s also made smoking legal in prisons again for the first time in 10 years. Tobacco, he said, can generate another $750,000 towards MDOC’s re-entry program for prisoners.

Inmates at Mississippi State Penitentiary.
Inmates at Mississippi State Penitentiary.(WLBT)

”Now, that’s good, but if we can generate another $750,000 from tobacco that’s better, and so obviously they’re smoking anyway, because they’re trying to smuggle it in. Also, it corrupts our officers, because some of them smoke, and so you say, ‘well you can’t smoke for 12 hours,’ he don’t want to work for us and he might be a good guy, so if something’s legal on the street, it should be legal in the prison anyway, except for alcohol.”

But Burl Cain is most passionate about programs that help inmates develop skills to prepare for re-entry into society. On Wednesday, he was back at Parchman meeting with Delta Community College officials for a commitment to start a satellite program for inmates to get college credit.

”And it’s about them making it and being a taxpayer and not a tax taker,” said Cain.

So, the tireless transformation of MDOC’s notorious prison system is underway and there’s much more...

”And we’re going to be the place that people are going to come across American prisons to see how we did it, so they can do it.”

But one thing you won’t hear Burl Cain do is take credit for the transformation:

”Give the credit where it’s due. Give the credit to the governor, to the lieutenant governor, to the legislature, because I can’t do anything if they don’t give it the support they have given it, and they have, and that’s what’s important. Everybody here pulls together and I’ve never seen it this way. It’s not that way over there,” said Cain.

MDOC is hosting a recruiting blitz this Saturday, February 13. They’re trying to hire 700 employees in 60 days.

Buses will be set up at two locations in here in the Metro, between Sam’s Club & BASS Pro Shop in Pearl and the Walmart on Highway 80 in Pearl.

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