Columbiana facility to help prisons

A new facility planned for Columbiana could help alleviate prison overcrowding and bring about 100 jobs to the area.

New Jersey-based Community Education Centers provides programs focused on treating offenders for substance abuse and preparing them for reentry into society.

Bill Palatucci, senior vice president general counsel, said the company has been watching Alabama and its packed facilities over the past few years.

According to a March 2007 report from the Alabama Department of Corrections, state facilities held 28,338 offenders, more than 193 percent of its occupancy rate.

&8220;Being about 45 mintues from Birmingham, Columbiana made good sense,&8221; he said.

Palatucci said Community Education Centers has a contract with the Department of Corrections to receive about 400 low-level offenders, male and female, who are nearing the end of their sentences and have been identified as good candidates for work release.

The program provides dorm-style housing for those chosen and offers counseling, educational opportunities and skill training in areas such as commercial painting, automotive repairs and carpentry.

Patalucci said the idea is to help offenders get and keep jobs once they&8217;re out and reduce the chance of a return to criminal activity.

&8220;It&8217;s a very elaborate program. This is not a jail or a prison where people are sitting around all day killing time,&8221; he said. &8220;This is a serious educational atmosphere.&8221;

Patalucci refused to give financial specifics other than this would be a multi-million dollar investment. Community Education Centers is in the process of closing a deal with Elastic Corp. to purchase one of its old facilities.

Previously one of Columbiana&8217;s largest employers, Elastic Corp. recently closed to move its operations to South America.

Patalucci said the facility should be open by October or November.

&8220;This is something we&8217;ve all been involved in, and it&8217;s met with positive feelings, and we&8217;ve felt it&8217;s a good thing for the city,&8221; said Columbiana Mayor Allan Lowe.

Lowe and Palatucci both stressed that sex offenders and violent criminals would not be eligible for the center.