Governor Ivey Looks at New Prison Options

Decatur Daily--

MONTGOMERY — The Alabama Department of Corrections and Gov. Kay Ivey want to hire a project manager to assess construction needs within the state’s prison system, a possible first step toward seeking private entities to build several large facilities the state could then lease.

A request for qualifications was issued Friday and Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, said the state is considering leasing from private builders several large prisons in order to address the crowding situation in current facilities.

“It’s a state prison in every sense of the word, except we don’t own the property,” Ward said.

The move comes after efforts in the Alabama Legislature to borrow up to $800 million to create mega prisons have failed in the last two years, in part because of concerns about the amount of debt.

Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn said the request for qualifications will allow an independent team of experts to develop a plan to address the current and future prison needs.

“It is clear that we have serious infrastructure needs within our prison system, and we need to make decisions on correcting these issues,” Dunn said in a written statement. “Today we are taking a large step toward doing just that. This plan will provide a blueprint for long-term fixes to this generational problem.”

The project management team should be in place by mid-December.

Sen. Tim Melson, R-Florence, said it will be good to have a more information about what’s needed to fix the prison problem.

“It’s good to look into it and see what your needs are – but once you do, you better be ready to address those needs,” Melson, who represents portions of Lauderdale, Limestone and Madison counties, said. “Master plans are great if you follow them.”

Ivey for months has said all options are on the table while looking for a solution to the crowded prison issue, and some of them didn’t require the Legislature’s approval. The governor can’t enter into debt on behalf of the state but she can enter into agreements with third parties to lease facilities – on a short-term basis.

Earlier this year, a bill that would have allowed the state to lease three prisons from entities around the state said the leases would be on a year-to-year basis. It also capped the rent at $13.5 million per facility per year. That bill passed in the Senate but died in the House.

Ward said the current conversation is for three large men’s prisons and leaving Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women open. Previous plans called for a new women’s facility, but Ward said improvements have been made at Tutwiler.

“Even groups who have sued the state agree Tutwiler is much better off than it was,” Ward said.

The state has been plagued with acts of violence in its crowded and outdated prisons. Meanwhile, officials say they can’t hire corrections officers willing to work in the dangerous facilities.

As of August, ADOC’s close-security facilities, including Limestone Correctional Facility, had an occupancy rate of 140 percent. Its medium-security facilities were at nearly 181 percent capacity. The ADOC’s most recent monthly statistical reports no longer list staffing data, but a June report said the major facilities had about 42 percent of staff they’re authorized to employ.

The large prisons will likely be major employers and the state will decide where they’re located.

“There will be a lot of competition for these,” Ward said.

It was former Gov. Robert Bentley who in 2016 first proposed borrowing $800 million to build three new men’s prisons and one for women. That plan and subsequent re-writes called for the closure of most existing facilities. However, some lawmakers have indicated that Limestone, built in 1984, should remain open. Ward on Friday said he thought that was still a possibility.

But Limestone is not without significant problems. An analysis earlier this year of 17 ADOC facilities shows a multitude of problems, including fire safety and electrical system reliability.

At Limestone, the locks appeared to be the most significant issue.

“The age of the locks is causing a maintenance problem, and the facility has lost confidence in the security of the locks in places,” according to the report.

Do you like this post?

Be the first to comment