Proposed bill could close local prisons

Published 5:15 am Wednesday, May 4, 2016

$800B plan outlines shutdown of 13 of state’s 15 men’s facilities, Tutwiler

As of Tuesday, the fate of Escambia County’s Holman and Fountain Prisons – and those who work there – remained unclear as discussions continue on an amended $800 million prison bill that would close 13 of the state’s 15 men’s prisons.

The bill, which was passed by the House, includes an amendment requiring a second vote on the prison bill after plans are completed.

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The Senate, which passed an earlier version of the bill, must now give its OK to the amended version, which requires another vote of the legislature after the plan is completed, before it goes to the governor’s office for his signature.

The bill would fund construction of four large prisons – one for women and three for men – and would close Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women, as well as 13 of the current 15 men’s prisons. The bill does not say which two facilities would remain open, nor where the new prisons would be built.

“We have not identified the two maximum or medium male facilities that will remain open. We haven’t identified the ones we’ll consolidate,” said Bob Horton, Department of Corrections spokesman. “We’re still assessing the facilities at this time, and once that is completed, we’ll select those two that will remain open, and the 13 that we’ll consolidate.”

Horton said the only prison the department for sure knows that it will close is Tutwiler.

The Department of Corrections currently houses more than 24,000 inmates in facilities that have an architectural design capacity to house 13,318 inmates. With an occupancy rate higher than 180 percent, the prison system recently has had outbreaks of violence, including an incident at Holman Prison near Atmore in which the warden and a guard were stabbed.

Disturbances continue to plague the system, where as of press time Holman and Elmore remain on lockdown after an inmate employee strike.

Bentley has proposed borrowing $800 million through a bond issue, which he and others say can be serviced by the maintenance and security savings realized by closing the older facilities. It is estimated the prisons can be built within 36 months, according to a fact sheet circulated by proponents.

Proponents also say the prison system will gain efficiency by streamlining services.

Alabama is in danger of being ordered to make costly remedies to its prison overcrowding problem by the federal government, a move that lawmakers hope the prison construction bill will thwart.

The DOC fact sheet also states that the four new facilities be built “in proximity to current facilities to reduce the impact on the department’s existing workforce.”

Holman Prison, the maximum security prison which houses Alabama’s death row, was built in 1969 at a construction price of approximately $5 million. There are 238 on staff at the prison.

Fountain Correctional Center, the nearby minimum security facility, was built in the 1950s and currently employs 329.