County commission passed a resolution in support of repurposing the St. Clair County prison property following the state’s decision to close it. James Hill, a county attorney, said the commission decided this for a “variety of reasons.” 

“The property has a host of uses that would be more advantageous for the citizens of the county than a maximum-security prison has been for the last 40 years,” said Hill. 

According to Hill, there are 900 inmates in the prison, and approximately 400 are doing life without parole. 

The commission is currently considering three different outcomes for the property. 

One of the options being discussed is placing a workforce development program. Hill said certain infrastructure on the property would make for an easy conversion. 

Alternatively, there have also been discussions to turn the facility into a pandemic, public safety and health response center.

The third option is to turn the 600 acres into an outdoor facility for recreational activities.

“St. Clair has tremendous demand for outdoor recreational activities,” said Hill. “I think that property could very well be used in conjunction with other municipalities for recreational activities.”

Overall, he described the shutdown as “good news” for St. Clair County.

Hill’s biggest issue with the prison, beside opportunity costs, is the county is also having to take on the responsibility of housing inmates from various areas in Alabama.

The shutdown is a lengthy process that is still in its first phases. The swiftness of the project is up to the state’s decisions. 

Prison jobs will be relocated as the states builds and reconstructs prisons in other places, but Hill said if any employees want to get out of the correctional line of work, St. Clair is ready to help them. He believes there are plenty of opportunities for St. Clair County to provide careers.

“St. Clair county has been committed for decades for providing the education and training they need to be put into a career to be put into the rest of their lives.”

In promoting trade work, he believes it will make up for any jobs lost in the prison closure. 

St. Clair county, the Economic Development Council, Jefferson State Community College and local boards of education have been working to create workforce development programs over the years. 

Hill said Garrison Steel in Pell City has worked to promote iron and steel workers trade and education program and local schools have created opportunities for citizens to get trade education. 

“I am sensitive to the idea that there are jobs associated with the prison, and I would respond with ‘let us have an opportunity to train those individuals in another career that can provide for them and their families for decades to come,’” said Hill. “We’re committed to helping.”

Hill said anyone who is looking to get trade training can reach out to the EDC or Jefferson State Community College. 

The reported unemployment rate for August 2021 in St. Clair County was 2.6% and employers are having a hard time filling positions.

“The idea that we can train a workforce and provide them with employment opportunities is a proven fact in this county,” said Hill. “We absolutely can do it.”

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