Aliceville is to be new home for state's first federal female prison
Monday, September 22, 2008 VAL WALTONNews staff writer
Alabama's first federal prison for women criminals will be built in Pickens County.
The U.S. Bureau of Prisons confirmed the prison, planned on land 2 miles north of Aliceville on Alabama Highway 14, will be a secure facility for female inmates.
Alabama is home to two federal prisons for men, in Talladega and at Montgomery's Maxwell Air Force base. Although judges recommend prisoners serve their sentences close to home, the Bureau of Prisons designates where inmates will serve their time. Currently, women convicted of federal crimes in Alabama are sent out of state, with the closest women's prisons in Tallahassee and Marianna, Fla.
Felicia Ponce, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Prisons, said the agency decided to build the Aliceville prison for women to help relieve other overcrowded facilities nationally.
The new 1,400-inmate facility is expected to be an economic boon for Pickens County and the surrounding Black Belt communities, said state Rep. Alan Harper, D-Aliceville.
A $1.8 million contract for the prison was awarded July 31 to Caddell/Yates JV of Montgomery, the federal agency said. The facility is expected to be completed in 2011.
"We are very fortunate," Harper said. "It is definitely a reality and will happen."
Harper said he expects groundbreaking to take place this year. The new facility is expected to bring 350 jobs to the area, where many residents commute to Tuscaloosa or Columbus, Miss.
"It will absolutely save the northern end of the Black Belt," Harper said.
Harper said he expects other support businesses such as hotels and restaurants to open in the area as a result of the prison. The project gained momentum several years ago when Sen. Richard Shelby, a Republican from nearby Tuscaloosa, won federal funding. Shelby has steered $210 million toward the prison, including $155 million this year.
Statistics from the Sentencing Project, a Washington-based organization that advocates sentencing reform, show the female prison population is growing. Since 1985, the number of women in prison has increased at nearly double the rate of men.
"More women are being sent to prison at the state level, and the trend on the federal level is even more stark," said Lisa Kung, an attorney with the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta, which has fought to improve conditions at Alabama's Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka.
Kung said having a new federal prison in Alabama could be seen as a positive, but she said the need for more space is a symptom of a much larger problem: sending women to prison for drug crimes instead of a community-based drug treatment. Figures were not available to show how many women from Alabama's three federal court districts are in federal prisons across the country.
Glennon Threatt, a Birmingham defense lawyer who serves as the liaison between court-appointed attorneys and the federal court in Alabama's northern district, said it is important for female inmates, especially those who are mothers, to be able to maintain contact with their families, which is hindered when they are housed in prisons far from home. It's not unusual for female prisoners from Alabama to serve their sentences as far away as Danbury, Conn.
Threatt says contact visits with family and friends help to reduce recidivism.
"This lets them know they have a support network," Threatt said.
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