INMATE TRANSFERS ON HOLD
Officials are waiting on a judge's opinion before making transfers from Tutwiler
By Mike Cason
Five weeks after announcing plans to send female prisoners to private facilities in other states, Gov. Bob Riley's administation has not normally sought bids from any companies.
The transfers are part of the state's effort to reduce the inmate population at Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women by the end of June.
On Dec. 2, U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson ruled that the prison violated the U.S. Constitution because it was so overcrowded and unsafe and ordered the state to submit a plan to fix it. Thompson's ruling came in a lawsuit filed by Tutwiler inmates.
In its plan given to Thompson on Feb. 21, the Riley administration told Thompson it would send 290 inmates out of state. The plan set a goal of reducing the Tutwiler population to 750 by the end of June, a reduction of about one-fourth.
The Montgomery Advertiser has requested records of the Alabama Department of Corrections communications with private prison facilities. The newspaper asked for a list of companies contacted, requests for proposals or invitations to bid and copies of any guidelines or criteria the state would base its selection. It also asked for guidelines or criteria that would determine which inmates are chosen for transfer.
Brian Corbett, a spokesman for the Department of Corrections, said last week that requests for proposal still werebeing written. He did not know if there had been any written communications with private prison companies.
David Azbell, press secretary for Riley, said he did not know if the state has had written commuications with prison companies.
Attorneys for the inmates object to the plan to send inmates out of state. They say it would sever contacts with families, attorneys and community support and make it harder for inmates to eventually return successfully to the free world.
They also say the money to send inmates out of state can be better spent on community corrections programs.
"The more we look at it, the more irresponsible and irrational it seems," said Lisa Kung, an attorney for the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta, which represents the inmates. "There are better, cheaper long-term solutions."
The attorneys asked Thompson to block the transfers, but he has not done so. Thompson has issued no ruling on the state's plan.
During a hearing on March 6, the judge told attorneys for both sides that he was inclined to give the state a chance to follow its plan to resolve the problems.
Attorneys for the state have said that the transfers are a temporary measure, but haven't said how long they would be used.
Department of Corrections Commissoner Donal Campbell rejected the Advertiser's request to speak with inmates about possible transfers to other states.
Frank Albright, deputy warden at Tutwiler, said officials at the prison have not talked to inmates about the possibility of transfers.
"We have not talked to them on their views because the plan was submitted to the judge and he's still in process of reviewing it," Albright said. "It actually would be premature when we don't know if the judge will approve it."
Kate Clarke of Mobile has a daughter who has served 11 years of a 20-year sentence for manslaughter. She said her daughter, Katherine Jones, spends part of her day outside Tutwiler in a work program with the Alabama Medicaid Agency.
"I think she's pretty well satisfied with her position right now," Clarke said. "I wouldn't want her to go out of state."
Clarke said she talks to her daughter on the telephone every week and visited her twice last year.
The Tutwiler prison population stood at 977 as of Friday. Of those, 238 were housed in Dorm 9, the largest dormitory, normally patroled by two officers.
Albright said the double bunks in the dorm were recently lowered by seven inches to improve visibility. Boxes used to store inmates' belongings also were removed to improve visibility. Inmate storage space is now limited to metal drawers on the underside of the bunks.
Those steps are also part of the state's plan to make the prison safer. They will allow officers to better see what is happening throughout the dorm.