By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
Last week’s announcement by state prison officials — that the planned “decommissioning” of Holman Correctional Facility has been expedited by serious maintenance issues — has generated general concern that the Holman closure is the first step in shutting down the twin prison complexes just outside Atmore, where more than 250 area residents work.
But a ranking state senator said there’s no need for concern, that the closing of Holman, one of the state’s oldest penal institutions, would not mean the immediate loss of jobs.
Sen. Greg Albritton of Atmore, who recently toured Holman and called it a “nightmare,” told reporters the move wasn’t a snap decision, that a “careful investigation” had been conducted into the prison before a decision was made to speed up a planned maintenance upgrade.
“This is not a made-up crisis; I’ve been there,” Albritton said. “The employees we have will be moved to either Fountain (Correctional Facility) or to other correctional facilities. (State corrections officials) are trying to hire more employees, not lose any.”
District 4 Escambia County Commissioner Brandon Smith said he would take the senator’s comments on faith.
“I talked with Senator Albritton, and he said before anybody gets upset or bent out of shape, nothing’s changing,” Smith said. “No jobs are going anywhere, nothing like that. The majority of the Holman employees will be basically moved across the highway, to Fountain.”
Atmore Mayor Jim Staff echoed Smith’s sentiments.
“That’s exactly what (Albritton) told me,” Staff said. “He said we were not going to lose any jobs, that most of (Holman’s employees) would just move across the road to Fountain. I don’t know if any of them will go somewhere else or not.”
Smith said Albritton explained the reasoning behind the sudden closure of the prison, where Gov. Kay Ivey visited January 15 for a tour and discussions with Warden Cynthia Stewart.
“There’s a legitimate reason why they’re doing that,” the commissioner said. “They’re having a lot of utility problems in that section of the prison, that it’s dangerous, too dangerous for anybody to even go down there and work on it.
“I told him a lot of people were worried that this was kind of an exit plan for our prison to just leave. He assured me that it had nothing to do with that, that it had nothing to do with the governor’s new three-prison plan across the state. It was strictly an emergency situation that they had to address at the time to make sure the inmates were safe, and the officers out there were safe.”
ADOC Commissioner Jeff Dunn said in a press release issued last week that the ongoing maintenance problems at the 51-year-old Holman facility were the reason for accelerating the existing plan, a decision he said “was made swiftly and strategically by ADOC’s executive leadership upon learning of the daily interventions required to maintain deteriorating underground utility systems, which provide essential power, water, and sewer services, in order to keep the main facility operational.”
Dunn said ADOC continuously monitors and performs “risk analyses of its aging facilities in an effort to maintain critical systems across the correctional system.” He pointed out that conditions within Holman’s maintenance tunnel — in which the main facility’s electrical, water and sewer control systems are housed — have reached a point where “increased safety concerns and a degree of risk to anyone who enters the tunnel, ultimately rendering ongoing maintenance or repair of these systems unsustainable.”
The prison system commissioner reiterated that concerns over the deterioration of Holman’s infrastructure were the sole reason for deciding to implement the “decommissioning” plan.
“Since my arrival at the ADOC almost five years ago, this Department has been vocal about the pervasive and extreme dilapidation crippling facilities throughout the correctional system, and Holman Correctional Facility is no exception,” Dunn 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.”
Holman’s main facility houses general population inmates and death row inmates, as well as the prison cafeteria, medical unit, administrative suite and execution chamber, which is the only component of the main facility that will remain in use.
Dunn said executions would not be affected by the move, and ADOC staff would take all necessary measures and precautions to maintain the integrity and safety of the death chamber and its access points.
Once the decommissioning process is complete, approximately 422 general population inmates and 195 restrictive housing inmates will be relocated to other state prison facilities. Approximately 150 of Holman’s low-risk inmates who are serving life without parole sentences will be moved to the facility’s standalone E-dorm (formerly the faith-based dormitory) and continue to work at the prison’s tag and clothing plants.
The facility’s restrictive housing unit will be modified to house and serve the facility’s current 145 death row inmates, as well as 21 additional death row inmates who already have been transferred safely from Donaldson Correctional Facility as part of Phase 1 of this process.
Prison officials said the restrictive housing unit, E-dorm, and the tag and clothing plants all have independent power, water, and sewage systems.
The exact details and timing of Phase 2, which encompasses the transfer of Holman Correctional Facility’s general and restrictive housing populations, will not be made public in advance for security purposes.
Dunn said ADOC anticipates retaining enough security and support personnel to staff the active areas at or near 100 percent, “establishing a replicable management and rehabilitative model for other facilities as new security staff continues to be added across the correctional system.”
Health, rehabilitative and food services for Holman will be provided from Fountain Correctional Facility, which is located approximately two miles from Holman.