The Decatur Daily, 28th February 2003

By Clay Redden 
DAILY Staff Writer · (334) 262-1104 

MONTGOMERY - Gov. Bob Riley says he's considering
properties other than state mental health facilities to help ease overcrowding in the state's prison system. 

Riley said Thursday that he's looking at a couple of
former U.S. military bases in the state as possible
locations to house the overflow of female inmates from
Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka. 

The state is under federal court order to relieve
overcrowding at Tutwiler. 

"We've looked at old Fort McClellan, and someone
suggested the other day that we should also look at the old Navy homeport in Mobile," said Riley. 

Riley had said that he was considering converting one
or more of the state's mental facilities into prisons
to ease crowding at Tutwiler, the only women's prison
in the state. 

Alabama Department of Mental Health and Mental
Retardation Commissioner Kathy Sawyer said last week
she's considering consolidating some of the 14 state
operated mental facilities. 

Two of the mental facilities under consideration are
the Lurleen B. Wallace Developmental Center and North
Alabama Regional Hospital, both in Decatur. 

Sawyer said tight state funding, as well as federal court orders requiring community-based residences for the mentally ill and retarded, are forcing her to look at consolidating the facilities. 

"The only thing we're doing right now is looking at
any and all possibilities," said Riley. 

Riley said both the homeport facility in Mobile, a
short-lived home for two guided missile cruisers and a
minesweeper in the early 1990s, and the old Fort
McClellan Army Base at Anniston have barracks that
could house a large number of nonviolent inmates. 

The old Army base is in the district of state Sen.
Gerald Dial, D-Lineville. 

He said there are several buildings there that have
been stripped of heating and air conditioning as well
as kitchens but are otherwise in good shape. 

"It wouldn't take much to put up a fence and lights
and re-equip the buildings," said Dial. 

The Clay County lawmaker estimates the facility could
be turned into a minimum security prison for less than

Dial couldn't say if the consortium of government and
business leaders that control the property have been
approached about using the barracks as a prison. 

Both Sens. Tommy Ed Roberts, D-Hartselle, and Tom
Butler, D-Madison, said they were happy Riley is
considering options other than converting some of the
state's mental facilities into prisons. 

Roberts is familiar with the site at Fort McClellan
having spent a number of summers on active duty there
while in the National Guard. 

"Fort McClellan already has built-in security, a
perimeter and could be easily converted to a prison,"
said Roberts. "That sounds like a much better
proposition than converting a mental health facility."

Butler agrees but still wants Riley to keep the Decatur mental health facilities open if cost-cutting consolidations take place. 

"They ought to look at consolidating facilities that are closest together, like Tuscaloosa and Wetumpka, before consolidating our facilities," said Butler. 

Riley noted Thursday the Tarwater Developmental Center in Wetumpka is less than a mile from Tutwiler on U.S. 231, but stopped short of saying that it might be one
of the mental facilities closed in a consolidation move.