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Inmates to get training for returning to work force

COLUMBIANA (AP) — The Alabama Department of Corrections has reached an agreement with a New Jersey-based company for a training center that will prepare inmates to rejoin the work force, but opponents say the plan is too lenient and puts the community in danger.

Prisons Commissioner Rich-ard Allen said Monday the three-year, $3 million contract with Community Education Centers hasn’t been signed but is “a done deal.”

Bill Palatucci, senior vice president of Community Education Centers, said his company will house approximately 400 inmates at the Columbiana center when it opens in November.

Allen said none of the inmates will have been convicted of violent or sex-related crimes and they will work in one of the state’s 10 work release centers after successfully completing the six-month program.

Columbiana Mayor Allan Lowe said he is aware of concerns among residents that inmates might pose a threat to the town, but said the inmates will be “unable to leave the facility from the time they get here until the time they complete their training.”

City Councilman Danny Kelley, whose district includes the property where the center would operate, said he has concerns.

“If you’re in prison, you’ve done something to be sent to prison,” Kelley said. “I have a lot of safety concerns.”

Johnnie Doss Page, president of the Shelby County chapter of Victims of Crime and Leniency, or Vocal, said she plans to circulate a petition asking city leaders to stop the plan.

“They call this a Community Education Center, but I call it a prison,” Page said. “This is leniency for our inmates who have broken our laws, and it’s wrong for Columbiana.”

Palatucci said those concerns are understandable, but, “We end up being a really good neighbor; no one’s getting out.”

Allen said having two six-month programs, each taking 400 inmates out of state prisons, will ease overcrowding while preparing inmates for work release jobs. Of the money those work release jobs pay the inmates, Allen said, 40 percent goes toward reimbursing the state for the cost of feeding and housing them.

Palatucci said the center, which will offer substance abuse counseling and job training, will be in a building that once housed Elastic Corp. of America and will employ about 100 people.

The inmates, 350 men and 50 women at a time, will be near the end of their sentences when they come to the center, Palatucci said.

“The type of person who is there will be rejoining the community soon,” Palatucci said. “It’s better to provide those people with skills to keep them from re-offending.”

Community Education Centers has facilities in New Jersey, Colorado, Wyoming, South Carolina, Indiana, Pennsylvania, South Dakota and Wyoming.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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