Alabama has transferred 300 female inmates out of state from its Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women to relieve overcrowding. Women’s E News reports that the mass transfer of began on April 13, when 70 were moved to the for-profit South Louisiana Correctional Center in Basile, La.
Critics say the move is devastating for many of the imprisoned mothers and their children, whose contact has been jeopardized by the women’s transfer to a facility almost 500 miles away. “As private prison companies become more aggressive in marketing . . . we may see the rise in the number of being sent across state lines,” says Lisa Kung of the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta.
Kung was drawn into the Julia Tutwiler case last summer, after the women appealed to her to help improve their living conditions. She visited the facility and found women crammed together in a hot, decrepit building with very little to do. Temperatures of 100 degrees combined with high humidity made living close to unbearable. Julia Tutwiler, built in the 1940s to house about 350 female inmates, was holding nearly 1,000. Kung sued the state, on the grounds that the overcrowded conditions violated the Eighth Amendment, which protects prisoners against cruel and unusual punishment and the 14th Amendment, which obligates the state to protect life, liberty or property.
Alabama has begun using $2.9 million in state funds to transfer inmates–both female and male–to for-profit facilities out of state. So far, they are all women from Julia Tutwiler, but male inmates are expected to be transferred as well. It’s a move that some local officials consider appropriate under the circumstances. “We are a poor state and have been hit hard by the national recession,” says Alabama state Sen. Jim Preuitt, a Democrat from Talladega. “We live within our funds. We don’t spend more money than we have.”