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Alabama Prisons Sell Land to Finance Prison Building, Repair

In July 2007, Alabama Governor Bob Riley announced a plan to sell approximately 6,000 acres of state prison land to finance the construction of new prison beds and make needed repairs to existing facilities. The extra bed space would enable the state to return Alabama prisoners who are housed out of state.

The land sale is expected to generate between $16.3 million to $23.9 million. Up for sale are the 3,869 acres of the Farquhar State Cattle Ranch in Hale County; 2,045 acres of the 2,409-acre Red Eagle Honor Farm in Montgomery County; the former Department of Corrections 1-acre office site adjacent to the Capitol; 32 acres in Wetumpka; and 10 acres of the old Kilby Prison site in Montgomery.

?These properties are a financial drain on the taxpayers and aren?t needed,? said Gov. Riley. The state previously sold 540 acres of swampland from the Farquhar Cattle Ranch to private landowners for $1.6 million.

The state currently spends $12.4 million a year to keep Alabama prisoners in Louisiana jails. The money from the land sale will be spent exclusively to expand the prison system and renovate or repair buildings to bring those prisoners back to Alabama.

To create further bed space, a new 400-prisoner community education center in Columbiana is being built for non-violent prisoners, plus a new 300-bed women?s facility. The Alabama Department of Corrections has been in a serious budget crunch that has resulted in $94 million in deferred maintenance ? including roof repairs, security systems and heating units that need replacement.

Critics of the sale, including state Rep. Ralph Howard, have cited the impact on the local economy if the land is sold and questioned the wisdom of selling property to fund one-time budget expenditures. Others have decried the transfer of good hunting and fishing land to the private sector, which is likely to develop it.

The Alabama Forever Wild Land Trust, a state conservation group, decided in September 2007 to purchase several thousand acres of the prison cattle ranch land. If the sale goes through, the land ? and taxpayer dollars for the purchase ? would simply be shifted between two state government agencies. The remainder of the land will be sold to the private sector.

Sources: Tuscaloosa News, Associated Press, Huntsville Times

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