For a generation, the Louisiana corrections department has been dominated by two men: Burl Cain, the swashbuckling longtime warden at Angola prison, and Jimmy LeBlanc, his unassuming former subordinate and business partner who went on to become secretary, with Cain’s forceful endorsement, under two governors, The Advocate reports. The pair’s ascendance began in the 1990s, when Cain successfully urged then-Gov. Edwin Edwards to elevate Richard Stalder, another former underling, to secretary, a job Stalder would hold for 16 years before giving way to LeBlanc in 2008. Cain and LeBlanc have populated the ranks of the Department of Public Safety and Corrections with friends and relatives, in positions high and low. Other kin and allies have found success in the private sector, supplying goods and services to an archipelago of prisons in a state that keeps more people behind bars than any other.
A series of scandals that began last year has shaken up a department that has historically kept its business outside public view. Cain, warden of Angola for two decades, retired amid questions about his business ties to advocates for two state inmates. Other scandals have ended the careers of Cain’s eldest son and daughter-in-law. LeBlanc has hung on. In reappointing him corrections chief this year, Gov. John Bel Edwards made an extraordinary bet that LeBlanc can clean up the corruption that largely occurred on his watch. Edwards views the veteran corrections chief as the ideal man to lead a once-in-a-lifetime makeover of his department, an ambitious effort to end Louisiana’s 18-year reign as the U.S. prison capital. It would be a remarkable achievement, given that some of LeBlanc’s key allies have benefited from the explosive growth in the state’s prison rolls. A diagram mapping the influence of LeBlanc and Cain shows about 20 of the men’s family members stationed all over the corrections department or tied to it. Many hold key positions. The chart could be mistaken for the invite list to a family Christmas party.