Under new prisons bill, Limestone County likely keeps prison, but loses out on possible mega-prison

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LIMESTONE COUNTY, Ala. - Key lawmakers say they don't foresee Limestone County Correctional Facility closing under the new version of a prison construction bill working its way through Montgomery.

The Alabama Senate passed a prison construction bill, sending it on to the House. It's different from the Governor's plan, in part, because it closes less prisons and builds one less too. The governor's plan would have closed 13 of 15 men's prisons and replaced them with three "mega-prisons," with one additional "mega-prison" to serve the female inmate population.

The new plan doesn't specify how many prisons would be closed, but now the state is angling toward two new prisons up front with the possibility of a third.

Senator Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) said he believes Limestone County Correctional Facility has key advantages that will keep it open and operating, "They are able to get good, well-qualified employees in Limestone County to staff that facility, and that is a real challenge and struggle elsewhere in the state."

The prison is also a little newer than some of the other facilities in the state. Orr said, "Those things and some other factors would seem very much in favor of keeping the Limestone County facility open in the future."

It matters a lot to Limestone County. It's the tenth-largest employer there with nearly 350 employees and $15.2 million in payroll.

Orr said he suspects the prison will get some renovations, which he described as "quite probable." However, he noted the bill still needs to be reviewed by the House of Representatives, and it's likely to wind up in a conference committee to reconcile the versions.

We also talked to Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon (R) who said he doesn't see how Limestone County Correctional Facility would be torn down or closed.

Of course that also means the area would have trouble getting one of the new "mega-prisons," which comes with more jobs and tens of millions of dollars in construction contracts.

Orr noteed, "I don't envision that happening, but it's certainly out there. The bill does not tie down which areas are able to put that together."

Right now, all indications are that the prison in Limestone County will come out of the process with some renovations and little other impact, a dramatic difference from the governor's plan, which made it seem feasible the prison would close.

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