Ala. Leaders Discuss Possible Women’s Prison

ANNISTON, Ala. — Alabama is trying to make room for female inmates in Calhoun County, Ala., as local leaders are starting a new campaign to push for the creation of a new women’s state correctional facility.

The push for the new facility is in response to severe overcrowding and legal problems involving the current Tutwiler Prison for Women, the state’s only maximum-security prison for women. Tutwiler has made headlines for alleged crimes of sex abuse inside the prison that the government is currently investigating.

Alabama officials have also been more concerned with Tutwiler after the news in California that severe overcrowding was deemed “cruel and unusual punishment” by a judge.

Tutwiler houses maximum-security inmates and also inmates convicted of non-violent crimes, which makes not only overcrowding an issue but also increased violence with the mix of inmates.

“Currently, the Alabama prison system is very overcrowded, and a lot of them are there for minor crimes,” said Calhoun County Sheriff Larry Amerson to a local newspaper, The Anniston Star. “Virtually none of them serve their sentences.”

Overcrowding is a serious concern in the state, according to Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, and head of the state Legislature’s Joint Prison Oversight Committee. “We’re at 192 percent of our capacity, probably the most over-capacitated system in the country,” he said. Ward worried that the conditions could lead to more investigations and interventions by federal authorities.

Advocates for the new prison include State Rep. Barbara Boyd, D-Anniston, who recommends closing Tutwiler all together and “creating a system of lower-security facilities around Alabama to house nonviolent female offenders,” according to a statement.

Before any plans for a new prison get underway, state officials are beginning a new sentencing reform beginning in October that will help to ease overcrowding by ordering judges to follow sentencing guidelines in non-violent crime cases unless there’s a reason to do otherwise. According to the Alabama Sentencing Commission Director, Bennet Wright, this may help to slowly ease prison overcrowding in the state.

Wright also did not dismiss the possibility of new construction in the future, saying in a statement, “At some point, the state’s going to have a real discussion about building state prisons.”