Bullock County leaders in uncharted waters amid potential prison closure

Bullock County leaders concerned over future of state prison

BULLOCK COUNTY, AL (WSFA) - It’s cooking up to be another busy day at the Hilltop Grill in Union Springs, just the way Rebekah Johnson likes it. But Johnson worries she’ll soon lose 20 percent of her business.

Alabama Department of Corrections leaders may close the Bullock County Correctional Facility and make way for a super prison somewhere. It all depends on how Gov. Kay Ivey’s proposal to build three mega prisons shakes out.

“It wouldn’t shut me down, but it won’t help,” Johnson admitted.

“It’s an Alabama problem and we’ve got to solve it," Ivey earlier this week. She’s opened bids to see just how much three prisons would cost. One figure being tossed around: $900 million.

If the governor and lawmakers decide this is the way to go, the mega prisons could be built in more populated areas where they would easily draw prospective employees, something the state prison in Bullock County has trouble keeping.

There are currently more than 150 openings at the facility and the starting pay for a correctional guard across the state is nearly $31,000 a year, according to DOC.

”I recommend to the state we offer more money," said Bullock County Commission Chairman Alonza Ellis.

“The Union Springs Utilities Board gets about 20 percent percent of its income come from this one facility," added Bullock County Commissioner Johnny Adams.

Commissioners Ellis and Adams say the economic impact the prison has on Bullock County’s economy is $10 million a year.

Local leaders say regardless if the prison closes in Bullock County, there is one positive aspect to all of this. It’s forcing them to look down the road and think outside the box.

“We’ll begin looking at new industries that will fit our county," said Commissioner Adams.

The county commissioners and Rebekah Johnson don’t doubt the current prisons in Alabama are outdated, terribly short on staff and dangerous.

“I am hoping we can keep the prison," said Chairman Ellis.

For now, those who depend on one of Bullock County’s largest employers remain in their own prison of uncertainty.

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