WETUMPKA, AL (WSFA) - Alabama's only prison for women is under the microscope these days. Julia Tutwiler prison in Wetumpka got a visit from members of a state-wide commission Monday, which is looking for ways to improve the facility.
The commission's recommendations could ultimately lead to the prison's closure.
Members of the Commission on Girls and Women in the Criminal Justice System got an up-close look at what really goes on inside Tutwiler.
Part of their visit focused on the prison's efforts to prepare inmates for re-entry into society -- vocational programs that teach sewing, flower arranging, even automobile mechanics.
The commission also met directly with inmates "to look at them and to listen to them," said chairwoman Barbara Boyd.
"I think it's very important they're here," said inmate Kimberly Hughes.
When asked what works at Tutwiler, Hughes told the commission how much she benefited from substance abuse counseling.
"I've learned a lot about myself and that I couldn't do it alone, that I needed help," she explained.
But Hughes says the problem is the fact that not everyone has access to that program. There is often a waiting list.
Another inmate says the same is true for re-entry classes, which she described as crucial to her rehabilitation.
Deborah Smith said the classes "gave me something that I never had before - support."
Commission members are also looking into new ways to help inmates avoid committing crimes once they're released.
"I'm very interested in hearing from the women what we can do to prevent them from coming back to prison," said commissioner Carol Potok.
The commission will take its findings and make recommendations to the state legislature in 2010.
One recommendation made last year actually involves shutting down Tutwiler. Commission members say it's too old and too large. They're calling for a newer and smaller high-security facility, along with smaller, lower-security facilities around the state.
You can read the commission's other recommendations by clicking on the link above.