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Prison land in Limestone may go for development
300 new inmates to be moved into correctional facility

By M.J. Ellington
mjellington@decaturdaily.com (334) 262-1104

MONTGOMERY — Farmland and other vacant property at Limestone Correctional Facility could end up as residential or commercial developments to generate money for the state Department of Corrections.

At the same time, 300 new inmates will move into a former warehouse at the prison.

"There is very valuable land adjacent to the prison that could be developed," Corrections Commissioner Richard Allen said Wednesday.

Allen's comments came after a news conference during which he and Gov. Bob Riley announced plans to eliminate a $26.6 million shortfall in the department's budget for the coming fiscal year.

The prison in Capshaw is not using the property, which is part of land holdings that Allen said the department will consider either for sale or "joint ventures with developers" in the future.

North Alabama's rapid growth because of the Base Realignment and Closure process has helped make the Limestone property especially appealing, he said.

The department's current land sales or development targets, primarily in Central and South Alabama, do not include estimates of how much revenue the Limestone property might generate, Allen said.

"We are not that far along with it yet," he said.

Two or three people already have inquired about the property, he said.

Allen said the department needs the revenue to repair and renovate state correctional facilities. Properties, including Limestone's, that have long-term income potential are the ones targeted for possible joint-development ventures, he said.

Allen said he has not yet seen a recently completed land-use analysis of all department properties, but that analysis will contain recommendations about best uses. He mentioned retail, commercial or residential development as possibilities.

The department's budget-balancing plan also calls for returning to Alabama by November about 1,300 male and female prisoners now in private correctional facilities in Louisiana. Allen expects the prisoner return alone to save his department about $10 million.

Allen said program expansions and new bed space for non-violent inmates will free beds at maximum-security facilities and enable the state to bring back those inmates.

Conversion of a former warehouse inside Limestone Correctional Facility's main fence will provide space for 300 inmates now in Louisiana. That facility should be ready by September, he said.

Currently, Limestone houses an average of about 2,000 inmates, according to Department of Corrections records, and has a capacity of 2,388.

Other measures to balance the department's budget include increasing the number of nonviolent inmates on work release in community settings from 1,800 to 3,300, a measure that Allen said could bring in up to $9 million to the department. Inmates on work release earn income based on their job skills, with a portion of that income going to corrections and restitution programs.

Other plans include charging a fee of up to $10 per person for inmates who work at no charge and under direct supervision for other state government agencies.

Also, the department will sell 5,763 acres of state land, including the Farquhar State Cattle Ranch in Greensboro. That would generate $16.3 million to $23.8 million for capital improvement projects, rather than for balancing the department's budget, officials said.

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