September 22, 2020

Alabama to shut down majority of ‘dilapidated’ state prison after more than 51 years

Alabama is largely shutting down a state prison that houses more than 600 inmates because of sewer and other infrastructure problem’s in the 51-year-old facility, the state commissioner announced Wednesday.

The move is the latest upheaval in the prison system that has struggled with overcrowding, low staffing, violence and aging facilities.

Alabama Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn said 617 inmates at Holman Correctional Facility at Atmore will be sent to other state prisons.

Dunn said the decision was made because maintenance crews were struggling daily to maintain sewer and electrical systems housed in a tunnel running beneath the main prison building. Some inmates, including death row inmates, will remain at Holman in units that run on separate systems, he said.

“This is a real and serious issue that cannot be understated and, after learning the extent of the risks associated with continued maintenance attempts at Holman Correctional Facility, moving quickly on our plans to decommission was the right and only decision,” Dunn said.

Dunn said the problems at the prison were the result of age and chronic neglect.

The Department of Justice last year issued a report condemning Alabama prisons for excessive levels of violence and inmate deaths and a critical staffing shortage. The Justice Department threatened to file a lawsuit against the state unless the problems were addressed. The 617 inmates will go into the facilities where the state has been struggling with crowding and staffing.

“This is going to place some additional stress on the rest of the system. That’s unavoidable,” Dunn said, adding that they are working to mitigate that impact on crowding at other state prisons.

The state will continue to house death row inmates at Holman but the 145 inmates will be moved to a restrictive housing unit that has separate infrastructure systems. The state on Tuesday night moved 21 death row inmates from Donaldson Correctional Facility to Holman. Dunn said the execution chamber at Holman will be maintained for carrying out executions and the state is consulting on how to maintain the chamber.

The state will also maintain a free-standing dorm that will house 150 low-risk inmates serving life without parole sentences.

Those inmates will work in the prison industry shops that make license plates and clothing

The state did not give a time frame for the transfer of inmates, citing security reasons.

The decision to shutter Holman was purely for infrastructure problems, and not because of the violence that has plagued it and other prisons, Dunn said.

It comes as Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey weighs a proposal to close most state prisons and replace them with three new mega-prisons. The prison system has highlighted the infrastructure problems as they take reporters and lawmakers on tours of existing prisons.

Dunn said the decision to close the prison was not related to the construction proposal, but Holman illustrates the problems in the system.

“Our facilities are decaying. They are dilapidated,” he said.