Inmate transfers possible

 The state has opened talks with private companies to help alleviate overcrowding

By Mike Cason 
Montgomery Advertiser 

Alabama prison officials are talking with a Tennessee company about sending male inmates to private facilities in Georgia and Mississippi, a vice president for the company said Tuesday. 

Officials from Corrections Corporation of America met with Gov. Bob Riley on Tuesday. 

The state previously has announced plans to send female inmates from Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women out of state, but has not done so. 

David Azbell, press secretary for Riley, said the governor has not decided to send male inmates out of state. 

"We're focusing now on fulfilling our obligations to Tutwiler," Azbell said. 

Louise Green, vice president of marketing and public relations for Corrections Corporation of America, based in Nashville, Tenn., said it has a mostly vacant, 1,200-bed prison in Tutwiler, Miss., and a 1,500-bed prison in Stewart, Ga., that is 70 percent completed. 

"Primarily, we have been talking to Alabama about opportunities to assist them with the male population through a number of options, one of which could be managing a portion of their inmate population at one of CCA's existing facilities in Mississippi and Georgia," Green said. 

Green said the Tutwiler, Miss., prison was completed in about 1996, but mostly has been vacant for several years. It is located about 80 miles south of Memphis, Tenn. She said it now houses a small number of county inmates. 

Green said construction was halted on the Stewart, Ga., facility a couple of years ago and will resume when the company has a contract to use the prison. She estimated that construction would take nine to 12 months. 

"We're pleased to at least be able to talk to Alabama because we do know they have great challenges in their state at this time," Green said. "We look forward to being a long-term partner." 

Green said the company serves 23 states and the federal government. 

Brian Corbett, spokesman for the Alabama Department of Corrections, said the state also has had talks with five other companies -- LCS Correctional Services of Lafayette, La.; Wackenhut Corrections Corporation of Boca Raton, Fla.; GRW Corporation of Brentwood, Tenn.; Cornell Corrections of Houston; and Emerald Correctional Management of Shreveport, La. 

Corbett said the state is in the process of writing a formal request for a proposal to submit to some of those companies. 

On Feb. 21, the state informed U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson of plans to send 290 female inmates from Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women to a private correctional facility. The state plans to reduce Tutwiler's inmate population from its current level of almost 1,000 to 750 by June 30, partly with the transfers. 

The state's plans are in response to Thompson's finding on Dec. 2 that the prison violated the U.S. Constitution because it was so overcrowded. Thompson made that finding in a lawsuit filed by Tutwiler inmates. 

Attorneys for the inmates oppose the out-of-state transfers. They say it will break the inmates' ties with family, attorneys and other means of support. They also said the money used to transfer the inmates would be better spent on local corrections programs. 

In a separate case, the prison system is under orders from Montgomery County Circuit Judge William Shashy to accept its inmates from county jails more quickly. 

Mike Cason can be reached at 240-0117, or by e-mail.