Tallassee residents unhappy with Elmore County’s new proposed prison location

Updated: Oct. 4, 2020 at 11:10 AM EDT
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ELMORE COUNTY, Ala. (WSFA) - A 376-acre field located off Alabama Highway 229 and Rifle Range Road, just outside of Tallassee’s city limits, has been announced as the proposed site for a brand new mega-prison in Elmore County.

The site is one of three prisons planned for the state. Two other prisons are set to be built in Escambia and Bibb counties.

The exact location for the Elmore County facility was the last to be determined, and where exactly it would land created controversy among community members.

Residents that live on the west side of Elmore County are already used to living in close proximity to prisons. Three men’s correctional facilities and one women’s prison have existed on that side of the county for years. But now, the new mega-prison is set to be built on the east side of the county, and many residents there are unhappy.

“I think they’re making a bad decision,” said farmer Colby Wisener.

Wisener and his family have owned the land adjacent to the proposed site for 30 years. He said the prison will devastate their farm.

“This is our life. We put all our work and years into making this place something," Wisener said. “Apparently they don’t listen to the folks living out here.”

Cassandra Pafferd lives within a few miles of the proposed site with her three boys.

“I am definitely against it,” Pafferd said. “I moved to Tallassee because it is a small quiet town and I love it just like it is. I was always told if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Like other surrounding families, her biggest concern is safety.

“It’s so close to the school,” Pafferd said. “I just don’t know why they would put it that close to a school.”

Meanwhile, Tallassee Mayor John Hammock is in support of the proposed site.

“We’re right off Interstate 85 which allows the state of Alabama to pull a workforce from the surrounding areas," Hammock said. “So it’s just a perfect site.”

Hammock said the prison will give an economic boost to Tallassee and the east side of the county.

“I think it’ll be a great economic impact for the city of Tallassee,” Hammock said. “We’re going to have the utility sales even though it’s right outside our city limits, and we will be selling them water, sewer, and gas.”

Also, the nearly $600-million-dollar facility would bring in a large chunk of property taxes, Hammock said. And the increase in employees and visitors would boost sales tax numbers.

“I think this is huge for the River Region,” Hammock said.

In regards to safety concerns, Hammock said “95 percent of the people that go into prison come back out. There is a lot of people walking the streets that have already been to prison and are out again. The main thing is that we stop the revolving door. We want to get these people help.”

“I think the good outweighs the bad and I think after a few years of operation you won’t even think anything about it. Just like they do over on the other side of the county," Hammock went on to say.

According to the governor’s office, the Alabama Department of Corrections plans to enter into long-term leases for three facilities.

ADOC says the new facility is expected to bring 3,900 construction jobs to Elmore County.

The Elmore County Commission said combined the counties existing prisons employ nearly 700 people and brings in close to $30 million in payroll. The good news is the building of the new prison is not expected to negatively impact the county’s employment.

ADOC expects construction on all three new prisons to start early next year.

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