Prison bill brings questions to the table

Published 12:02 am Wednesday, May 4, 2016

While the state House of Representatives OK’d a bill last week that, if passed by the Senate, would close 14 prisons and build four new prisons, there are still a lot of questions left to be answered.

The two most pressing questions concern whether or not prison staff will lose their jobs and where the prisons will be located.

Last week, the House passed an $800 million prison bill. The Senate, which passed an earlier version of the bill, must give its OK on the amended version, which requires another vote of the legislature after the plan is completed before the governor signs it.

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The bill would fund construction of four large prisons — one for women and three for men — and would close Julia Tutwiler Prison for Woman, as well as 13 of the current 15 men’s prisons.

At present, the bill doesn’t say what facilities would remain open or where the new prisons would be built.

State Rep. Alan Baker, who represents Baldwin and Escambia Counties, said the bill will help create better efficiencies with cost savings to the state, and that it’s not to increase capacity.

“There has been absolutely no discussion on any potential sites anywhere across the State,” Baker said. “Such talk of proposed locations appears to have surfaced by opponents who wanted to stir opposition to the bill. Such location talk is contrary to any of the prison construction bill discussions ongoing in Montgomery by (department of corrections) officials or legislators who are greatly concerned and involved in deliberations for such a massive project.”

Baker said if the bill passes and is signed by Gov. Robert Bentley, a feasibility study would be initiated to begin the process of determining the best locations for the three male mega prison facilities.

“In addition, DOC Commissioner (Jeff) Dunn has reaffirmed over and over there would be no loss of jobs for those currently employed in the DOC facilities,” he said. “The construction of these new facilities is expected to take five years. Once operational, the new facilities would require less staffing, but this would occur over time through attrition and not by terminating current employees.”

Baker said the push for one of the mega prisons to be located in Atmore, where plenty of acreage lies, would be preferred.

“At such time should the bill pass, I will become one of the strongest advocates to promote the Atmore site as a prime location to build one of the three regional mega prison facilities,” he said.

If the bill passes and a new mega prison is located in Atmore, it will benefit not only the state but those who depend on the system to provide for their families.