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Opinion: Prison Bill Could Have Devastating Effect on Communities

Rebecca Beasley

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BY REBECCA BEASLEY
MAYOR OF CLAYTON

The possible closing of Ventress Correctional Facility in Clayton would have a devastating effect on the economy of our rural area in southeast Alabama. In addition to Ventress in Clayton, Barbour County has another state prison located in Clio, Easterling Correctional Facility.

Our small municipalities have bond issues dependent on the operation of the state facilities at stake if the facilities are closed. Both municipalities have expanded water and sewerage treatment facilities to the total of about $6 million to accommodate the needs of the facilities. The financial strain on us would virtually bankrupt our municipalities because we have no other resource to pay our debts. It would be impossible to pass along this amount of debt to our citizens.

Closure of our prison facilities would not only affect the ability for us to repay our indebtedness, the economic ripple effect would be harmful. We recruited the prisons in our municipalities built in the early ’90s and have welcomed them with open arms. These facilities are our economic development compared to a car manufacturing facility in other areas of the state. We deeply depend on jobs available at the prisons to help sustain our communities.

We also would realize an impact with our school system. Employees would be forced to move to other locations for jobs at the proposed mega prisons resulting in their children leaving our school system. This again will affect foundation funds the Barbour County School System will receive.

I can talk about the economic impact of closing two prisons facilities in Barbour County and one in adjacent Bullock County more but unfortunately space would not permit.

We are deeply concerned about Gov. Robert Bentley’s Prison Transformation Act and have questions as to the reality of paying back a $800 million bond issue with savings,  building the new facilities under a no-bid contract, and not disclosing the locations of the new mega prisons. It appears legislators should seek concrete answers before they vote to put our children and grandchildren in a financial debt in an already financially depressed state. It appears to be an ill conceived approach to problems within the state prison system and certainly results in questions of honesty and legitimacy.

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We hope we will not be forced  to file litigation against the state because of the Prison Transformation Act that was railroaded through the Alabama Senate after a cloture vote. We encourage members of the Alabama House of Representatives to look at this legislation pushed by the governor in such an aggressive manner.

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