Our Views: Angola as reform model

If corrections officials are looking for a model of prison reform, then the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola is a promising place to start.

That’s one message of a New York Times op-ed recently written by one of Angola’s most famous former inmates, Wilbert Rideau.

Rideau, who became an award-winning prison journalist at Angola while serving time for killing a bank teller in Calcasieu Parish, wrote a Times essay about recent protests by some 30,000 inmates in the custody of the California Department of Corrections. The inmates went on a hunger strike to demand improvements in prison conditions.

Prison tensions have a higher chance of resolution when corrections officials and responsible inmates can find ways to cooperate, a lesson too easily lost, Rideau told readers.

“Too bad,” he added, “because making responsible inmates partners in managing prison problems has worked extremely well in the Louisiana State Penitentiary, where the wardens and sub-wardens have, for decades, regularly met with inmate leaders to discuss problems. It has gone from being one of the bloodiest to one of the safest maximum security prisons in America.”

Rideau’s point is worth considering. And it was nice, at any rate, to pick up the New York Times and see Louisiana held up as a model of positive change.