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Hammock and Ivey in 2018

Hammock on new mega prison: "Keep an open mind"

By Michael Butler

A new men's mega prison will be located just outside of the Tallassee city limits. It will become the largest correctional facility in Alabama.

Gov. Kay Ivey's office recently announced that Rifle Range Road in Elmore County will be one of the sites for three new mega prisons being built in the state. The other two sites will be in Bibb and Escambia Counties.

The mega prisons will become the largest in Alabama with each housing more than 3,000 inmates. The $600 million location near Tallassee will become the very largest with a capacity of 3,900 inmates on site including those with medical and mental needs. Currently, the state's largest prison is Limestone Correctional Facility in Madison County with a capacity of 2,086.

Tallassee mayor Johnny Hammock said that construction is expected to start in January.

"I never talked to the governor about any of this. I found out when it popped up on my phone that she had made the announcement," Hammock said. "(To) the people that live on Rifle Range, I'm very compassionate. I understand your feelings. Sometimes change affects certain people certain ways and other people other (ways), but change is inevitable.

"I'm a glass half-full type of person. I think this is going to be a great econmic boom for the city of Tallassee. We just retained 700 jobs for our county. It's going to take two or three years to construct with 3,900 construction workers."

Hammock said the city will have an opportunity to profit from water, gas and sewer services for the prison.

"That's one customer that you send one bill," he said. "It's like a city out there. It's going to have almost 4,000 inmates (and) the workers. That's about the size of Tallassee.

"This is going to be the healthcare portion, for the aged and infirmed. You're not only going to have correctional officers, you're going to have doctors, nurses, dentists, psychiatrists."

Utility enhancement and getting infrastructure to the site will soon be in the works.

"You're probably looking at $4.5 million. I was talking with the Economic Development Administration out of Atlanta. There's probably about $2 million to go to it. You'd articulate the grant to say job creation. You can do a Community Devolopment Block Grant. That $4.5 million is going to shrink down pretty quick."

Potential revenues from utility sales could exceed $700,000 annually, Hammock added.

"The new sewer plant that we're building can hold up to 4 million gallons per day. We can produce 3 million gallons of water per day. We've got all the gas you want. The gas line runs right through here."

Hammock said Tallassee's Community Hospital will also benefit.

"Hospitals are closing all over the country. This is going to be a 50-year lease with CoreCivic. We just pretty much guaranteed our hospital will be open for 50 years. (For) those 325 people that work over there, those jobs will stay there. I want people that are out there against it to really think about that.

"Let's not lose sight of why the state is doing this. Prisons are overcrowded. This is going to give 37 percent more program space for the people who are going in to get habilitated. This is an opportunity for churches around here to do some type of prison ministry.

"95 percent of people entering correctional systems are coming out one day. Have an open mind. This is the largest job creation for this area since GKN. This is huge for us. I know some people are going to use this to bash me. The only downside I see is maybe a little more traffic, but traffic equals more people at gas pumps, McDonalds, Super Foods.

"Nobody sets out to be a criminal. They talk about their families. 'You don't want those kind of people coming here on visitation day.' If you don't have anybody in your family that ever been incarcerated, you're extremely lucky. These are human beings."

The mayor said he has already been approached by someone interested in locating a hotel in Tallassee near the prison.

"I was telling him some places that might be good. When you get a Days Inn, a Key West Inn, or something like that, then you can start having your ball tournaments."

Future developments should come, Hammock noted.

"It's going to take some time. You're talking about a decade."