Senator fears new mega-prisons could force closure of 3 prisons in his district

Concern for economy in areas at risk of losing prisons

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - Three existing correctional facilities inside of Alabama state Senator Billy Beasley’s district could close with the construction of three new mega-prisons in the state.

Governor Kay Ivey announced the construction of three new men’s prisons in Bibb, Escambia and Elmore counties. In exchange for the new prisons, Gov. Ivey and the Alabama Department of Corrections plan to close up to 11 existing prisons.

Which prisons are supposed to close has not been announced, but Beasley said the closures of Bullock County Correctional Facility in Union Springs, Easterling Correctional Facility in Clio and Ventress Correctional Facility in Clayton would be financially devastating.

“I have been fighting for five or six years in the Alabama Senate trying to protect the three facilities in my district,” Senator Beasley said.

According to Beasley, the three facilities in his district were built in these small rural towns with the intention of bringing in revenue and creating jobs.

“It was important that we provide jobs,” Beasley said. “And now we are concerned about what’s going to happen to the towns if these facilities close.”

Beasley said, combined, the three prisons employ nearly 700 people.

“I want to do everything I can to make sure that we keep them open,” Beasley said. “For the future of my three towns, it’s critical.”

When the facilities were built, Beasley said the towns had to invest millions of dollars into water treatment facilities to support the existing prisons.

“Correctional facilities are the number one customer of the water department in Clayton, Clio and Union Springs,” Beasley said. “The towns who have invested a lot of money in water treatment facilities need to be protected.”

Beasley said there is plenty of room for expansion of the current facilities.

“There is ample acreage on these sites that you could expand,” Beasley said. “I have expressed those views to the governor on numerous occasions since she has been governor of Alabama.”

Beasley is a strong believer that the facilities should stay and be utilized for something else. Something that would help continue to provide jobs and a steady revenue stream for the towns.

“I would like to see these facilities remain opened and maybe put nonviolent inmates here,” Beasley said.

The buildings, he believes, could be used as a mental health facility or possibly a transitional facility for inmates.

“We could help train the inmates where once they complete their terms they go back into society and they have a skill, we could do that,” Beasley said.

The Alabama Department of Corrections is pursuing a “build then lease” model for the three new mega prisons. The companies will build the facilities and then the state will pay rent on them for an uncertain period of time.

Alabama legislators do not have much say in the process, and some worry what kind of lease would be negotiated.

“There needs to be an oversight committee to make sure that everything is done correctly,” Beasley said.

Despite much uncertainty about his district and the prisons that reside in it, Beasley remains optimistic.

“I’m going to continue to fight for my district and I am going to continue to fight for these facilities,” Beasley said.

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