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Female inmates return to state
Prisoners come home from Louisiana after renovations; men to follow in '08

MONTGOMERY — Alabama inmate Jacklin Mitchell went to help unpack a delivery truck last week at the Louisiana facility where she's been since June and saw packages of travel-friendly bottled water and dozens of loaves of bread mixed in with the usual rations.

That's when Mitchell knew she and the 327 other Alabama women at J.B. Evans Correctional Facility in Newellton, La. were coming home.

"I had been praying and trusting God for them to come before the deadline," Mitchell said Thursday from the newly created Montgomery Women's Facility in Mount Meigs outside Montgomery. "They couldn't have come at a better time."

The Alabama Department of Corrections had planned to bring the women back by Nov. 30, but they were transferred this week because renovations at their new quarters were finished early, corrections spokesman Brian Corbett said. The department spent about $55,000 installing additional showers and toilets and making renovations for medical and mental health services, at what was formerly the Montgomery Pre-Release Center for men, on the grounds of Kilby Correctional Facility.

"The fact that we have to use private and out-of-state bed space has always been considered temporary based on conditions," he said.

There are still 141 male inmates at J.B. Evans and 136 male inmates at the Perry County Detention Center in Uniontown, which are both owned and operated by LCS Corrections Services.

All male inmates are expected to be moved from the private prisons by March 2008. That's later than originally planned because the opening of a new Therapeutic Education Center in Columbiana that will eventually house up to 450 inmates won't be done until then, Corbett said.

The department started contracting with private prisons in April 2003 after a federal judge ruled that the state's only prison for women, Tutwiler Prison in Wetumpka, was dangerously overcrowded. Alabama is under court order to house no more than 700 inmates at Tutwiler.

Doing away with private contracts is expected to save the department $10 million annually to help manage a $30 million shortfall in what prison officials said they needed for the current fiscal year.

Some of the incarcerated women had complained about conditions at J.B. Evans, which is on the Louisiana-Mississippi line about 60 miles west of Jackson. Many of them had not had visits from their families while there, and said they weren't allowed to go outside regularly.

Mitchell and Kyndale Kolkana, who had spent two years in Louisiana, said they were anxious to resume taking courses from J.F. Ingram State Technical College, which they lost after being transferred.

"I couldn't stand it," Kolkana said of being out-of-state. "There's no structure, there's no education. It's just a day-to-day struggle there."

Wendy Ragland, who was in the first group of women sent to J.B. Evans, said she's now looking forward to being closer to her mother, sisters and brother in Anniston after being abruptly transferred nearly five years ago.

"I did not know that I was going to be transferred to Louisiana when they called me out to go — none of us knew," she said. "I was very unhappy about going way out of state and I wasn't going to see my people. I've been unhappy ever since I've been there."

Corrections' Associate Commissioner for Operations James DeLoach said DOC monitors visit the Alabama inmates monthly to make sure they're being taken care of, but the best case scenario is having them in-state.

"So often we have to make tough choices that adversely affect inmates' lives and this was one of the good things that we can do to get them close to home," he said. "We're just glad that we were able to make it happen. It's good for all concerned."

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