No Real ‘Alternative’

Over the past two years, Patrick Welch has grown accustomed to prison life. The metro Atlanta native must wear a uniform every day. He frequently must step through metal detectors and be patted down by security officers who are checking for weapons and drugs. He can’t move about his living space freely. Common personal items – including cash – are considered “contraband” and therefore are banned. He eats, sleeps and socializes exclusively with the 500 men in his unit.

As an inmate at Coffee Correctional Facility in far southeastern Georgia, Welch, 20, said he was well-prepared for prison life after spending eight months at an Atlanta Public Schools alternative school for disruptive students. A civil rights attorney described the school, Forrest Hill Academy (FHA), as a “prison before prison for the kids.”

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