WSFA 12 News participated in a guided media tour of the Tutwiler Women's Prison in Wetumpka on Friday morning.
Corrections Commissioner Kim Thomas lead the tour along with the warden and assistant wardens at Tutwiler, as well as instructors and administrators of Ingram State Technical College, the department's educational partner.
Throughout Tutwiler Prison are hundreds of newly installed security cameras. Some of the harshest criticisms of Tutwiler had to do with the fact that there were no surveillance systems in place throughout the prison, except for the mental health facility which was built in the early 2000's.
The cameras aren't yet online however.
"We expect the entire system to be operational once the installation is complete around or on July 15," Corrections Commissioner Kim Thomas told reporters.
Some of the most noticeable renovations took place in Dorm A, or the receiving living space for women whose stays at Tutwiler are being processed. The bathroom includes newly installed shower curtains and partitions between toilets.
"We've even changed the way we count prisoners," said Dr. Wendy Williams when it came to increasing the privacy of inmates.
Williams is a Deputy Commissioner within DOC who deals specifically with women's issues.
However, not all of the dormitories have the new privacy measures in place. Commissioner Thomas told reporters that the department is working to renovate the bathrooms in the other dormitories as well. For comparison, Dorm A houses about 80 inmates and Dorm F houses more than 150 inmates.
Overall, Tutwiler is still extremely overcrowded. The facility was built in 1942 and houses nearly a thousand inmates, approximately 200 more than the designed capacity.
There are also phones in some of the dorms with instant free access for inmates to call the PREA hotline. PREA stands for the Prison Rape Elimination Act.
One phone was broken during the media tour of the A Dorm.
Also at Tutwiler is a wide-ranging vocational program. There is a new lab designed specifically for inmates to earn their GEDs, as well as hands-on laboratories for inmates to learn welding, sewing, and automotive mechanic skills.
Dr. Hank Dasinger with Ingram State Technical College said "If we get it right then we transform lives and we turn inmates into responsible citizens who have jobs, who pay taxes and are no longer a burden."
Both Thomas and Dasinger said the education programs are therapeutic for the inmates.
Corrections officials focused a portion of the tour on the efforts to build new facilities on or near Tutwiler. Construction is set to begin next year for a new healthcare facility that will serve all inmates.
DOC is also working to complete renovations on the Wetumpka Women's Facility which is approximately two football fields from Tutwiler, slightly down the road on Highway 231.
It's a campus that was originally built for the Department of Mental Health with several mixed use residential buildings known as cottages, as well as a main education building.
Thomas described the Wetumpka Women's Facility as a "Medium to minimum security complex."
"We think this is an example of the department moving into the future" Thomas said.
Corrections officials say their vision is to house fewer women in the cottages who are approaching their release date.
Copyright 2014 WSFA 12 News. All rights reserved.
1720 Valley View Drive