State passes up use of private prison, goes out of state

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 7, 2006

The Selma Times-Journal

In a press release Wednesday it was revealed that the Alabama Department of Corrections voted to accept a bid that would keep Alabama’s first private prison empty, sending 600 male inmates out of state to be housed.

The private prison, located in Perry County just outside of Uniontown has been under construction for several years but already employs 75 people. The prison boasts 700 beds and comes equipped with a computer lab, basketball courts, Direct TV links, an exercise room and an educational program.

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Alabama prison chief Richard Allen announced that the new prison was not selected during the bid process because it would have cost $1.4 million more annually to keep the prisoners in that facility then it will to send them to a prison in Louisiana. The Perry County prison bid $34.50 per inmate, while Emerald’s West Carroll Detention Center in Epps, La., bid $28.

However, Perry County Commis sion Chairman Johnny Flowers said that the state would be paying just about the same amount of money for the supervision of those out-of-state inmates that they would be if they had chosen to keep them instate.

“The state has to supervise those out-of-state prisoners and that costs,” Flowers said. “They’ve been doing this for years. Why not pay a tad bit more for in-state? They wouldn’t really be losing any money because this prison in Perry County will be providing jobs for the Black Belt area. It would serve the state a dual purpose by putting them here.”

Flowers said that a private prison means that the facility is privately owned and was no cost to the state of Alabama. He noted that Alabama doesn’t have funds to build anymore prisons at this time but that the state only has room for 15-20,000 inmates in its prisons right now.

“The problem is that there is a law in the state that says prisoners can’t remain in county jails more than 30 days,” Flowers said. “They have to be moved somewhere else. The problem with the prisons is that there is overcrowding because way back when the prisons were built, they were made to house 15,000 inmates. Now, we need room to house 30,000 but the system never upgraded. There’s terrible things wrong with those prisons, like plumbing. They can’t support that many inmates. Our Perry County prison is an upgraded facility.”

In the press release, it was noted that Allen said he “would have preferred to keep these prisoners and the associated payroll in Alabama, but the $1.4 million annualized price differential is just too great.”

Flowers said that the state has had an “ill feeling” towards the Black Belt for years and that it’s time for people to start standing up.

“It’s time for people to step up and it’s time to be through with all the talks,” Flowers said. “Someone needs to give us a hand up for once. The state of Alabama has always treated the Black Belt as if we were its step child. We’ve had no help with this prison. I feel that they could put prisoners in there if they wanted to. They’re just not tuned to help us out. We need jobs in the Black Belt and that is why it’s the ideal place.”

According to the Web site for Economic Research Services in the state of Alabama, Perry County’s Unemployment rate was 8.2 percent in 2005 with the median household income set at $20,555, one of the lowest incomes in the state.

The Perry prison’s bid was higher strictly because the facility will offer educational and rehabilitational services to the inmates.

“We didn’t want to just lock them up,” said Flowers. “We want to help them so that they will have some skill when they get out and won’t be uneducated.”

A final contract concerning the prison move is still being negotiated and awaiting approval. Perry County prison is expected to house male prisoners as of now, according to Flowers. But the state can put whoever they want there. Flowers said that the prison is currently in the process of seeking Federal inmates. The prison, though it was completed some time ago and is “ready for business”, still remains empty to this day.