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Univ. of San Diego School of Law

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Prison push offers skills to prevent repeat visits

Anew, privately owned medium-security prison in Shelby County that is scheduled to be dedicated today by Gov. Bob Riley will try to do something public prisons can't: Keep inmates from coming back.

The prison, built in an old factory in Columbiana at a cost of at least $8 million, will provide life coaching and job-skills training to inmates near the ends of their sentences.

"It's a very intensive program," said Alabama prisons Commissioner Richard Allen. "From the time they get up in the morning until the time they go to bed at night, they're busy."

New Jersey-based Community Education Centers Inc. built the prison in the former Elastic Corp. of America factory in Columbiana - within view of the Shelby County Courthouse dome - and will be paid $5.8 million a year for three years to operate it, according to its contract with the state.

Called the "Alabama Therapeutic Education Facility," the prison has more than 350 inmates, who are called "residents," and is large enough to house 700. Located among businesses in an industrial neighborhood, the facility has an exterior that looks little like a traditional prison.

William Palatucci, senior vice president and general counsel for CEC, said inmates are assessed upon entry and receive customized services. Among the services and programs available:

Cognitive and life skills development, including programs meant to improve decision making and the management of emotions.

Substance abuse counseling and support groups.

Instruction in job skills including welding, masonry, carpentry, barbering, cosmetology, office information systems, electrical, plumbing and automotive. [Mark Godsey]

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