Prison System: Louisiana Department of Corrections
Status: Active, opened in 1901
Offender Gender: Male; Contains State Execution Chamber for Females
Number of Inmates: Over 6,300
Employees: Over 1,800
Security Level: Maximum, Death Row, Medium, Minimum, Execution Chamber
Distinguishing Feature: The Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, which is referred to simply as Angola, has become famous for its prison rodeo. Unlike the recreation events at some rodeos, which may feature competitions but do not have non-prison spectators, the Angola Rodeo is very popular among local people. The spring rodeo has two dates and tickets go on sale months in advance; the fall rodeo happens every Sunday in October. The rodeo events are similar to, but for more dangerous than, events one would see at a normal rodeo performance. Many of them involve wild bulls or cows and the inexperience of the convicts in dealing with these animals is one of the selling points for the event. The Bust Out features six simultaneous bull rides, with the win going to the last man on a bull. The Wild Horse Race has three man teams of convicts chasing wild horses around the arena, with the goal to capture a horse and get a convict on its back. Guts & Glory has convicts chasing a bull to attempt to remove a poker chit from the bull. As the event descriptions suggest, injuries are an expected part of the rodeo.
Angola is the largest maximum security prison in the United States. It sits on 18,000 acres of land, and while the land is not used only to house prisoners, it is designated for prison uses such as agriculture. Considered by many to be the harshest prison in the United States, Angola is a study in contradictions. In many ways, its rules and regulations are innovative and helpful. For example, the prisoners produce their own food crops and other items for consumption, making the financial burden of caring for the prisoners significantly lower for taxpayers. Angola is also the only prison in the United States with its own radio station and the inmates produce an award-winning magazine. However, since it opened, Angola has been plagued with allegations of horrifically abusive practices towards the inmates and has been compared to modern-day slavery.
About 85% of the inmates at Angola have committed some type of violent crime, although only 29% of the prison is reserved for Maximum security.
Angola is a huge, multi-security institution, with housing for inmates located at different locations on the prison property. The inmates in minimum and medium security settings live in dormitories rather than cell blocks. Some of the maximum security inmates also live in dormitories, with the cellblocks generally reserved for prisoners in extended-lockdown, prisoners in protective custody, prisoners in transition, prisoners in need of or receiving mental health care. Most dormitories have air conditioning and heating. However, the death row facility, which was constructed in 2006, had no air conditioning, which was found to be cruel and unusual punishment, and they were ordered to install a cooling system in 2013.
The self-sufficiency model of Angola extends to care in the prison. Angola has an entire minimum custody dormitory, referred to as Camp F, which is staffed minimum care inmates who act as trustees for the rest of the prison. As trustees, they engage in various activities around the prison, such as food delivery and custodial work. They have greater freedom than other prisoners, such as access to a lake for fishing and relative freedom to move about the prison grounds. Trustees are not the only inmates to receive tailored care; approximately 70% of the inmates at Angola have life sentences and are expected to age or die while in prison. Therefore, Angola has a treatment center that is devoted to geriatric and hospice care.
Death row inmates at Angola actually enjoy higher levels of freedom than at many prisons. They are locked in cells 23 hours a day, but get one hour of time each day to shower or exercise. They have can have unlimited visitors and get one five minute phone call each month.
Angola offers high school and GED classes to those who have not graduated and even vocational training for inmates with qualifying test scores. Angola is partnered with the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, which provides a means for the inmates to get a college education, but only in theology. There are several clubs and groups at Angola, including those based on inmate interests, and two groups aimed at helping inmates who have children be better fathers, both during incarceration and after release.
The prison is designed to self-sufficient and self-sustaining. The prisoners produce over 4 million pounds of food crops each year, including: cabbage, corn, strawberries, onion, peppers, squash, tomatoes, wheat, soybeans, and peppers. They also produce cotton. The prisoners also manufacture: mattresses; brooms; mops; silk-screen products like plates, road signs, and textiles; and license plates for Louisiana and other customers. The prison also operates a repair shop for agricultural equipment.
It is impossible to discuss the history of Angola without placing the prison in the context of a Southern system that was once dependent upon slave labor. The first inmate housing on the land had been slave quarters during the antebellum period, and inmates were expected to work like slaves from sunup to sundown, when the prison first opened. There was a tremendous amount of racial strife between black and white inmates, and an all-white group of prison employees helped contribute to the racial animosity at the location. The prison population remains overwhelmingly and disproportionately black. It is still run like a working farm, and, with the prison population being overwhelmingly black, still resembles a slavery-era plantation; new prisoners are even put to work in cotton fields. The horrific abusive behavior that frequently accompanied slavery has also existed at Angola; older inmates tell stories of being fed slop, like pigs, or of having to live in rat-infested dormitories. These allegations have been accompanied by stories of physical abuse and sexual abuse. Former inmates, guards, and wardens describe a complex system of sexual slavery among the inmates that was condoned by prison staff as recently as the 1970s.
While several famous and infamous people have spent time in Angola, the most famous inmate is probably Robert Lee Willie, a death row inmate whose life inspired the character of Matthew Poncelet in the book and later the movie Dead Man Walking. In accordance with the open-door policy with the media, parts of Dead Man Walking were actually filmed on Angola’s grounds.
Year Built or Opened: 1901 Warden or Supervisor: Darrel Vannoy Daily Inmate Count: 6300+ Security Level(s): Maximum
Inmate Name and Inmate ID
Louisiana State Penitentiary
17544 Tunica Trace
Angola, LA 70712
17544 Tunica Trace
Angola, LA 70712