Alabama Governor Proposes Prison Closures, Consolidation

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama Governor Robert Bentley in his Feb. 2 State of the State address in Montgomery announced plans to transform the state’s prison system. The governor hopes to modernize the system and improve public safety “through safe, secure, humane incarceration and effective, evidenced-based rehabilitation and re-entry services,” according to a statement by the Alabama Department of Corrections (DOC). The statement comes after nearly 10 months of planning and assessment by the DOC.

Decades of underfunding have resulted in a system in which security concerns created by over-crowding and understaffing consume the majority of department resources at the expense of robust rehabilitation and reentry, according to a statement by the DOC, which adds that this status quo is unsustainable.

Aging and increasingly inadequate facilities throughout the department require what the DOC refers to as “labor-intensive security management operations” to properly oversee offenders. The DOC has identified replacing existing facilities with large, state-of-the-art, operationally efficient regional prisons as the safest, most humane and most cost effective solution.

Gov. Bentley’s three-pronged approach to overhauling the department includes closing the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women, which only last summer debuted the new J.F. Ingram State Technical College E-Learning Center. The facility, which was built in 1942, currently serves 975 women, and would be replaced with a new 1,200-bed women’s facility.

Part II of Gov. Bentley’s plan would consolidate 13 of the state’s 15 close- and medium-security men’s facilities into three modern, state-of-the-art, 4,000-bed facilities. The department has proposed to build the new facilities in the state’s northern, central and southern regions in proximity to current prison locations to reduce the impact to the existing workforce. Meanwhile part III of the plan would involve repurposing and renovating the remaining antiquated facilities into rehabilitation and re-entry centers to better prepare inmates for release.

The goal is for all new facilities to operate at or near 15:1 staffing ratios, allowing the department to use current employees to manage the new facilities safety and effectively. This would also free resources to invest in rehabilitation, according to a statement. Additionally, these larger scale regional facilities would allow for the consolidation of both support and medical staff and provide more opportunities for on-site medical care. This, in turn, would reduce costs and security concerns related to transporting inmates in need of medical care to off-site facilities.

Gov. Bentley’s plan offers a new vision for Corrections in Alabama — a vision of increased public safety, reduced recidivism, state-of-the-art facilities, and improved rehabilitation and re-entry, according to a statement. The initiative is also intended to serve as a national model that other states can use to improve Department of Corrections effectiveness and efficiencies.