Daily photo by John Godbey|
Limestone Correctional Facility Warden Billy Mitchem, left, and corrections officer Brown discuss the substance abuse program with area legislators during a tour of the prison in Capshaw. Corrections officers are not allowed to give out their first names.
Area legislators tour overcrowded Limestone prison
By Holly Hollman
CAPSHAW — If one eastern Limestone County community had a welcome sign, it would say, “Population: 2,115.”
But this is no small-town America.
This is a place where people wash clothes 16 hours a day and serve 40,000 meals a week. Workers harvest grape tomatoes to make $80,000 a year to help with finances. Religious preferences range from Protestant to Catholic to Muslim to Jewish to Rastafarian.
It’s a place where men sleep in bunk beds, stacked in a commons area that can reach temperatures of 100 degrees in the summer. And it’s a place surrounded by armed corrections officers and razor-wire-covered fences.
This is Limestone Correctional Facility, a place state legislators toured Thursday.
Rep. Mac McCutcheon, R-Capshaw, set up the tour, he said, because with budget hearings beginning for the 2007-08 fiscal year, legislators need to see the Department of Corrections’ needs.
Pointing out problems
DOC Commissioner Richard Allen said there are four major problem areas: overcrowding, shortage of corrections officers, aging facilities and soaring health care costs. Allen told the legislators present — McCutcheon; Rep. Micky Hammon, R-Decatur; Rep. Howard Sanderford, R-Huntsville; and Rep. Sue Schmitz, D-Toney — that he needs their help with law changes and funding.
Allen presented a plan on how the politicians can help him address the problems.
For overcrowding, Allen suggested a statewide community corrections program for nonviolent offenders and the establishment of technical violator centers for those with minor probation and parole violations.
More than capacity
Limestone, built to house 1,628 inmates, has 2,115. DOC is spending $250,000 to renovate a warehouse on the property to house an additional 300 inmates by summer.
To retain staff and recruit, Allen is asking for a 10 percent pay increase to help DOC compete with higher paying jobs, such as state troopers. A corrections officer starts out at $26,000, he said, compared to a trooper at $33,000.
DOC also is recruiting through the Alabama National Guard.
As for aging facilities, they are under inspection to see what it will cost to make them handicap accessible. Allen said those repairs and renovations will take seven to 10 years. DOC may have to close facilities that are not economically repairable, he said. Limestone’s warden, Billy Mitchem, said he has no budget to meet Americans with Disabilities Act requirements.
To combat health care costs, Allen said, he wants the state to build a 200-bed long-term care infirmary so DOC won’t have to pay hospitals for acute care. The cost to provide health care, he said, has risen from $44 million to $80 million in three years.
Allen and Mitchem told legislators that the prisons have programs that generate revenue for DOC.
In addition to growing and harvesting grape tomatoes at Limestone, the facility also has cattle.
Allen said he wants a law change that will let DOC bring light manufacturing work into the prisons to increase inmate-generated revenue. Allen said at Limestone, inmates used to receive deflated basketballs from Taiwan, inflate them and box them for a company. The state ruled that was part of the manufacturing process, however, and state law doesn’t allow manufacturing in prisons. The program ended in 2004.
“I want to increase our market and make inmate labor more profitable with those type of opportunities,” Allen said.
Forty percent of what an inmate makes goes to the department, 40 percent for restitution and court costs, and 20 percent to the inmate.
Limestone Correctional Facility has four main problems:
Shortage of corrections officers
Soaring health care costs.
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