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Compromise Prison Bill Offered

AL.com- Mike Cason

The latest version of the prison-building plan in the Alabama Legislature would allow for borrowing up to $775 million for up to three prisons and for renovation to existing prisons.

It would allow counties and cities to set up authorities to acquire property and issue bonds to build prison facilities that the authorities would lease to the Department of Corrections, using the lease payments to pay off the bonds.

DOC could enter lease agreements with up to three such authorities.

The $775 million bond cap would be reduced by $225 million for each prison facility that DOC leases from an authority.

The bill is the latest proposal resulting from negotiations that started with Gov. Robert Bentley's initiative to borrow $800 million to build four new prisons.

Bentley's plan called for closing most of the existing men's prisons and replacing them with three, larger regional prisons, as well as replacing Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women.

Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, the sponsor of the bill, said Tuesday that the plan might include a continuation of recent renovations to Tutwiler, rather than replacing Tutwiler.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to discuss the bill at 9:15 Thursday morning.

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Prison Construction Bill Sponsor Considering Smaller Version

By Chip Brownlee
Alabama Political Reporter

MONTGOMERY — Gov. Robert Bentley’s $800 million prison construction initiative has raised some eyebrows among lawmakers at the Alabama State House, prompting the proponent of the Governor’s plan to consider a smaller alternative.

Sen. Cam Ward, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and sponsor of the bill authorizing the Alabama Prison Transformation Initiative in the Senate, said Thursday that he would consider an alternative: perhaps a $500 million plan instead of the original $800 million plan.

“It’s possible,” Ward told APR. “We’re negotiating that now.”

The Judiciary Committee will meet next week, Ward said, at which time a substitute bill will be voted on. The bill would be a compromise “almost everyone can agree on,” Ward said.

“We’re going to meet with all of the parties, those who are for it and those who are against it, and let them have their say,” Ward said. “That’s why we took another week on it.”

The Committee addressed the current version of the bill Wednesday during a public hearing but there was no vote. The hearing saw presentations from Jeff Dunn, Alabama Department of Corrections commissioner, and several others including many who were against the plan.

Detractors, which included Committee members and representatives from various legal organizations, questioned the plan’s bidding process and whether it would actually solve the problems — overcrowding, understaffing, violence and mental health care — facing the State’s prisons.

Ward said they made some good points, which is why he is considering a compromise plan.

Where are the prisons going?

Bullock County Commissioner Ron Smith raised a concern common among many legislators whose districts include State facilities: Where will the new prisons go and what prisons will be closed? The plan calls for 14 of Alabama’s 17 prisons to be closed and consolidated into three new men’s prisons. One prison would be for women.

“Bullock County Correctional is our Hyundai,” Smith said. “Keep our Hyundai in Bullock County. Please put us at the top of the list. If not, leave us how we are.”

Another local official, Clio, Alabama, Mayor Jack Pelfrey, told those at the committee meeting Wednesday that his town had large debts from financing water and sewer projects to a State prison there.

“We are in debt until 2043,” Pelfrey said. “The prison is by far our largest customer.”

Ward said he was sympathetic to those concerns.

ADOC will fulfill contracts like infrastructure agreements with the counties that currently have prisons and there are plans to work with existing correctional officers to relocate them to the new prisons in their region.

But prisons shouldn’t be used as economic development projects, he said.

“The criminal justice system needs to work based upon what works for corrections, rehabilitation and public safety,” Ward said. “George Wallace used prisons as a tool to get votes and spur economic development. But I understand those communities’ concerns, and I’m with them.”

Overcrowding, understaffing and possible savings

The plan would authorize the Department of Corrections to issue an $800 million bond to construct three new 4,000-bed men’s prisons and a new women’s prison. It’s the brainchild of ADOC Commissioner Jeff Dunn and is Bentley’s top priority during this legislative session.

The Governor’s plan is an attempt to address overcrowding and systemic understaffing problems, but it doesn’t completely alleviate them. The plan would only reduce overcrowding from about 200 percent capacity to about 125 percent capacity over the next five years.

Alabama’s prisons currently house about 23,000 inmates in a system built mostly in the 1970s for a max of 13,000 inmates, according to the most recent ADOC statistical reports. Bentley’s plan would only increase capacity to 16,000 inmates if the planned number of existing prisons are closed.

The population has decreased from about 27,000 after the Legislature passed sentencing reform measures in 2013. Ward has said he favors an “all of the above” approach, which could include more sentencing reform.

The federal judiciary has shown increasing impatience with Alabama’s prison system. In 2014, conditions at Alabama’s Julia Tutwiler Prison were so bad that a Federal court ruled them unconstitutional and ordered improvements.

And another class-action lawsuit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center over mental health conditions at Alabama’s prisons went to trial in December.

The SPLC, a Montgomery-based civil rights legal organization, doesn’t believe Bentley’s plan solves the State’s underlying problems of understaffing and inadequate health care. The SPLC is currently litigating the lawsuit alleging that the State is deliberately indifferent to prisoners’ mental health needs.

“There is no question that Alabama needs to improve its prison facilities,” said Ebony Howard, SPLC associate legal director. “But spending $800 million on four new prisons will not fix the grossly inadequate medical and mental health care, the ongoing staff shortage or the unspeakable levels of violence.”

The bond would end up costing the State about $1.5 billion over the 30-year repayment period. The Department of Corrections says operational savings from the new prisons would save the State about $50 million a year — enough to finance the bond’s annual payment, according to independent reports ADOC commissioned.

Consolidation using the four “mega prisons” would reduce staffing costs by about $17 million a year, overtime payments by $21 million a year and healthcare delivery by $10 million, according to the two independent studies.

The plan calls for no reduction in health care staff but consolidates the healthcare administration from 14 different facilities to only three regional men’s facilities, which should increase access to healthcare while reducing costs, proponents say.

The consolidation would also allow for a 6 percent reduction in security staff and a 19 percent reduction in support staff, ADOC said.

Savings from the new prisons’ overall lower operating costs will allow ADOC to support the billion-dollar bond issue through its current annual appropriation. They say no changes to their General Fund appropriation will be needed.

Savings total $50 million a year, which, if accurate, would match nicely with estimated annual bond payments of about $50 million.

Ward told APR that he has asked the Legislative Fiscal Office for an additional report on estimated savings. He said he would have the full report by next week’s committee hearing and the findings will be presented.

To bid or not to bid?

The plan calls for the use of a design-build construction method. With this plan, one entity would be chosen to both design the facilities and construct them.

In the normal bidding process, the design-bid-build method, one entity bids for the design contract, another bid for the construction contract and the contractors then subcontract to smaller components of the construction.

Several legislators and many in the media were concerned that the plan would be less transparent and perhaps even be a no-bid process. But the design-build plan would save the State money and yield better results all while maintaining an open bid process, Ward said.

“The reason we want to do it this — and why most states other than us do it this way — is because you have one bid, as opposed to two people running down different tracks who sometimes don’t communicate, which causes cost overruns,” Ward said. “You’re still bidding it, but you’re just not bidding every single piece of it. It saves money this way.”

The nontraditional bidding process has thrown some people off, but 49 other states and the District of Columbia have used it before, Ward said, and have had successful results.

It’s been used successfully in Alabama, as well, just not by the State government. A federal women’s prison near Aliceville, Alabama, in south Pickens County, was built in 2009 using a design-build method. 

The federal correctional facility was built by Montgomery-based contractor Caddell Construction for a cost of $192 million, according to Caddell. It houses more than 1,600 inmates, an eighth of all women in federal prisons.

Is there a watchdog?

Under existing State statutes, the votings members of the State authority responsible for overseeing the issuance of the bond and construction of the prisons consists of the Governor, the Commissioner of the Department of Corrections and the Director of Finance — all within the Governor’s cabinet.

The prison construction bill in the Senate would add a House and a Senate member to the board. But that may not be enough to stop the executive branch from jostling a plan through authority, which has a quorum of three members.

“The Legislature cannot have a majority on the authority because that gets into the separation of powers. They can’t approve the money and then spend the money,” Ward said. “We can add other members to the authority, though. We can the Treasurer and maybe some other executive branch members, but we can’t have a majority of the Legislature on there.”

The three members of the authority, under current statutes, have the power to acquire land, construct and lease the facilities and issue bonds up to $60 million. The bill would give the new five-member authority the ability to issue up to $800 million in bonds for new prisons.

No construction budgets have been submitted to the Legislature yet. They are simply voting on a broad outline of the plan. ADOC and the Alabama Corrections Institution Finance Authority will have the final say on the plan, under current statute and the proposed plan.

Several legislators have been concerned about the oversight of the authority and what power would be given to the Legislature to halt any plans it does not approve of if the bill authorizing the basics of the plan passes.

The bill expands the size of the permanent legislative committee that provides oversight to the Department of Corrections from eight members to 12 members. 

The Senate bill would require a report from ADOC on the status of the plans every legislative session, and the Legislature would retain the power to shut down the process if they passed new legislation, Ward said.

“The key is if you have the transparency and oversight that means the public is going to know how it’s being spent,” Ward said. “If it’s reported that this money is being misspent we can actually roll it all back with legislation.”

The future of the prison construction plan

Even with the high-ranking support from Ward, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Mike Jones, R-Andalusia, the Governor and ADOC Commissioner Dunn, the bill has not had an easy path this legislative session.

“Let’s look at alternatives,” Rep. Johhny Mack Morrow, D-Redbay, said earlier this month. “Let’s don’t sink into $50 million a year debt. We’re going to put our grandchildren $50 million a year.”

Several legislators have proposed alternatives to the plan. The alternative proposed by Morrow and Rep. Ed Henry, R-Hartselle, would call for the State to contract with county and municipal jails to house State inmates. They say that option would be cheaper than housing inmates in State prisons and wouldn’t require a large bond issue.

In January 2015, the Alabama Department of Corrections had contracts with nine county jails to house 330 inmates at $15 per day. In total, the contracts cost $1.8 million in the 2015 fiscal year. ADOC also contracted with the Alabama Therapeutic Education Facility in Columbiana to house 700 inmates at $32 per day.

After budget reductions last year, ADOC canceled the contracts with the county jails, pulling the inmates in the county jails back into the State prison system. A spokesperson for the Department of Corrections said the pullbacks were to mitigate the budget reductions.

No single alternative has seemed to stick out, though. Disagreements over the prison construction plan are broad. Some are concerned about the location of the new prisons, others the consolidation and others, still, the design-build construction and bidding method.

Ward said he wanted to give those opposed to the bill the opportunity to present their alternatives next week before the bill is considered in the committee, and he won’t rush debate on the bill if it makes it to the floor of the Senate.

“The problem last year was people rushed out and basically ran over people,” Ward said. “I am going to make sure that everyone gets an opportunity to voice their opinion.”

A compromise plan proposed last year reduced the bond issue to about $550 million and cut the number of prisons from three regional men’s prisons to only two. Even with the changes, the compromise bill failed in the House because there weren’t enough votes to break filibuster and close debate.

The prison bill was debated Wednesday and will be readdressed next Tuesday during a Judiciary Committee meeting. It would require approval from the committee and then passage from the full Senate and then the House.

 

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Ward Receives Business Champion Award

Shelby County Reporter- FROM STAFF REPORTS

MONTGOMERY – Alabama Sen. Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) received the Business Champion Award on Feb. 21 for sponsorship of legislation to regulate lawsuit lenders and bring stability and fairness to the tort process.

The award was presented by the Business Council of Alabama president and CEO William J. Canary, Chamber of Commerce Association of Alabama president and CEO Jeremy Arthur and Greater Shelby County Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Kirk Mancer.

“Senator Ward in sponsoring the Alabama Lawsuit Lending Act is to be recognized and commended for his steadfast commitment to legal fairness and for his opposition to lawsuit interference by third parties with a financial interest in them,” Canary said.

“Aggressive lawsuit lending poses challenges to Alabama’s legal system by charging exhorbitant interest rates on loans that can affect how plaintiffs negotiate the process,” Mancer said. “Suppose the loan is so great that plaintiffs refuse a reasonable offer from the defendant in hopes of a bigger jackpot that may or may not occur?”

“Lawsuit loans are not within our state regulations but should be just as any other lender,” Arthur said.

Lawsuit lending reform is on the BCA’s 2017 legislative agenda. Bipartisan majorities have passed a form of this legislation in the last two years, but a few senators have used procedural rules to stop reform efforts.

A former House member, Ward is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The Business Champion Award recognizes legislators for sponsorship of and support of policies that better Alabama’s business climate and lives of employees, families and citizens

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Committee Fields Prison Construction Concerns

Montgomery Advertiser

Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, knows the problems that beleaguer the Alabama prison system and the concerns facing the prison construction bill, and he’s not shy about admitting that building four new prisons to the tune of $800 million — or $1.5 billion after 30 years — will not solve most of those problems.

The current prison system is plagued by overcrowding, dwindling corrections officer ranks, increasing levels of violence and a notable lack of mental health and substance abuse treatment. At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday afternoon, those opposed to the prison construction bill voiced their concerns about the bill: What will happen to local economies that depend on their prisons for revenue? Will the new facilities will be adequately staffed? Will mental health programs be implemented and what if, after all of this, the new prisons are still overcrowded?

Taking the podium to defend the bill, Ward acknowledged the plan’s singular focus of attempting to alleviate the load on an overcrowded prison system that ended 2016 at 175 percent capacity and admitted that not all problems would be addressed by the bill.

“I would love to come in here today to tell you we have a bill that solves all our problems. It does not. It took us decades to get into the hole we’re in, and we’re in a hole. That’s proven by the budget issues we have, by the violence inside the system, by the lawsuits we face. No one bill will solve all that and I won’t pretend to tell you that it will,” Ward said. “Looking at the facilities we have and talking to the experts we have, there’s one thing for certain: You’re going to build at some point. The question is do you build on your terms or do you build when someone has a gun to your head telling you how to build?”

During the public hearing portion, Southern Poverty Law Center Associate Legal Director Ebony Howard raised questions about why the plan has no guidelines for doctor/nurse ratios or medical staff competence, but Sen. Phil Williams, R-Rainbow City, said the bill "isn't about mental health and the bill isn't about sentencing reform."

"This idea does not solve all of our issues, but it does solve one of our issues," Williams said referring to overcrowding.

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Bill to Remove Judicial Override Clears Senate

MONTGOMERY — A bill that would end Alabama’s judicial override sentencing system, which allows judges to override juries and impose the death penalty, passed the State Senate Thursday with a near-unanimous vote.

Sen. Dick Brewbaker (R-Montgomery), sponsored the bill, which would prohibit a judge from overriding a jury’s sentence. Under the bill, at least 10 of 12 jurors must vote for death for a defendant to receive the sentence.

 

“It wasn’t an anti-death-penalty vote,” Brewbaker said Wednesday. “It was cleaning up a procedure that is detrimental to the jury system and calls into question jurisprudence in Alabama.”

Brewbaker, and Sen. Cam Ward (R-Alabaster), who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, referred to ending judicial override as a “moral” issue.

“This is not an indictment or somehow anything against our judges,” Ward said. “At the end of the day, it is morally wrong for us to allow this to continue in our State. We have a jury system and a jury process for a reason.”

Only one senator, Sen. Tripp Pittman, R-Daphne, voted against the measure.

“I have confidence in judges sitting through trials that are very complicated,” Pittman told APR. “Judges have my confidence to have that discretion. I think it’s important. … I do support the death penalty. I do think that the judges need that prerogative. Sometimes crimes are just so heinous that they rise to that level.”

Last year, the Alabama became the last state in the US with judicial override after the US Supreme Court ruled against Florida’s judicial override sentencing scheme. Over the next several months, the Florida Supreme Court and the Delaware Supreme Court killed judicial override in those states.

But in January, The US Supreme Court refused to hear a challenge to Alabama’s system of judicial override from several death row inmates, including Thomas Arthur, who — after another Supreme Court decision Monday — will be scheduled for his eight execution.

Arthur escaped seven previous execution dates unscathed because of several appeals. Though Arthur’s case, in particular, didn’t affect Pittman’s decision today, he said, it is an example of an appeals process that needs to be reviewed.

“I think you do need to look at how to run those appeals concurrently,” Pittman said. “I do think the Tommy Arthur case is an example of how someone can have seven different executions scheduled and are able to abuse the system in a case where a man was paid to execute a woman’s husband.”

Even with Alabama’s legal victories, the State’s system remains the only “hybrid sentencing system” in the country. Juries give a nonbinding advisory sentence — either for death or for life — and the judge then makes the final determination.

In Arthur’s case, his trial jury voted 11-1 for an advisory verdict of death, but the vote wasn’t unanimous, as most other states’ death-penalty sentences require. Under Brewbaker’s bill, Arthur still would have gotten the death penalty.

Brewbaker said his bill as written was not retroactive, but the Senate passed an amendment to the bill that would more clearly define that anyone who received the death penalty from a judge before its passage will not be able to have it reversed under this law.

Since 1976, more than 92 percent of 107 overrides have resulted in a judge imposing the death penalty when a trial jury voted to recommend life in prison, unlike Arthur’s case, according to Montgomery’s Equal Justice Initiative.

The Supreme Court decisions this year effectively ruled Alabama’s system constitutional, but that didn’t stop 30 senators from passing Brewbaker’s bill Thursday.

Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, has similar legislation in the House, which would also end judicial override but would require a unanimous jury vote for death. England’s version would put Alabama in line with all other states, which require a unanimous jury vote.

“I think it’s clear that the will of the body is there to do something about judicial override overall,” England said. “I think there may be a couple of differences of opinion about the specifics like unanimity of the jury. I think it will work itself through the process.”

England said he supports both bills.

“My opinion is that it restores faith in the outcome of the cases,” England said. “There’s some belief there that some judges who are politically motivated and want to give the appearance that they’re tough on crime to help their chances at re-election. I think that this will restore public confidence in the process going forward.”

The House Judiciary Committee gave England’s bill a favorable report and it should be brought before the full House as soon as Tuesday.

“We obviously all have differences of opinion about how bills should be done, but at the end of the day I think the overriding concept in judicial override is that passing the bill ending that practice will be a good step forward.”

Brewbaker’s legislation now heads to the House. If it is passed, it would be sent to the Governor for his signature before becoming law.

 

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Ward Proposes Using Medicaid to Help Local Sheriffs

An Alabama senator wants the federal government to cover most of the cost of caring for jail inmates with mental illnesses.

Sen. Cam Ward, an Alabaster Republican, said Tuesday that counties currently pay for detainees’ psychiatric health care. He has introduced a bill that would shift 70 percent of those costs to the federal government under Medicaid.

The legislation would also allow county inmates to resume federal mental health care benefits immediately after release.

Right now, Medicaid coverage is terminated when a person enters a county jail. Ward says this creates a gap in coverage when inmates are discharged, causing those with mental illnesses to go weeks or months without medication.

The bill will move to the Judiciary Committee for a vote.

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Chilton County Career Tech Class Receives Grant

Clanton — Chilton County High School career preparedness students are getting an updated classroom thanks to Community Service Grant funding and State Senator Cam Ward.

Ward visited the school on Feb. 14 to meet the teachers receiving the funds. He said the Community Service Grant funds are available to legislators to help local school systems.

“I really like to do a lot geared to technology,” Ward said.

Teacher Kayla Cantley said she emailed Ward about the need for new computer tables in her classroom. Later, she was notified that $2,000 could be allocated to the project.

The tables will allow a better computer lab set up. Cantley said the tables the computers are on now are not sturdy. All of the tables face the walls making it difficult for the students to see the SmartBoard, an interactive board used to display computer programs.

“Right now if they want to see the SmartBoard, we all have to get up close to the door, and it’s just not really a good fit,” Cantley said.

As a part of the upgrade, the room layout will be rearranged, so that the SmartBoard and teaching area will not be near the door. The tables will all face the SmartBoard, making it easier for students to see.

Teacher Kelli Inman said the career preparedness course addresses the college application process, resume writing, job interviews and personal finance.

The teachers coordinate lessons, so that students in each class are learning the same thing each week.

Cantely and Inman said they were thankful for the funds and Ward making a personal visit to the school.

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Ward Passes Bill to Crack Down on Opioid & Fentanyl Trafficking

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Today the Senate Judiciary Committee gave favorable report to a bill that will dramatically strengthen penalties for the possession and trafficking of the synthetic opioid fentanyl, a substance that is about fifty times stronger than heroin.

Currently, the possession of fentanyl can only be charged as the unlawful possession of a controlled substance, a Class D felony for which the maximum prison sentence is two years.

“In Jefferson County alone, fentanyl deaths increased by 114% in a single year,” SB154’s sponsor, Senator Cam Ward (R-Alabaster), said. “This is an unbelievably powerful drug and the illegal use and trafficking of Fentanyl are creating a public health and criminal justice crisis.”

Senate Bill 154 would make the possession of fentanyl or heroin a Class C felony, which carries a sentencing range of up to ten years in prison. The legislation is supported by new Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall.

Used as a pain reliever for patients, fentanyl is among the most powerful opioids prescribed by medical providers. Its street form is uniquely dangerous since the drug can be absorbed via the skin or inhalation.

“District attorneys and law enforcement have fought the devastating effect of dangerous drugs on the citizens and communities of Alabama for decades,” said Barry Matson, Executive Director of the Alabama District Attorneys Association.

“We have seen addiction destroy lives and perhaps most devastatingly of all, addiction takes the hope of mothers and fathers and the God-given human potential for a life free from the pain that comes with debilitating addiction,” Matson continued. “This is legislation we have crafted with Sen. Ward and it is critically needed in the fight against criminal drug smugglers, distributers and traffickers who apply their deadly trade in Alabama.”

Ward’s proposal also increases the penalty for unlawful possession of heroin from a Class D to a Class C felony, and now heads on to the entire State Senate for consideration.

Cam Ward represents District 14 in the Alabama State Senate, which includes all or parts of Shelby, Bibb, Chilton, Hale, and Jefferson Counties. He serves as Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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Prison Fellowship Changes Lives

Life has its ups and downs.  Sometimes only when we get outside of our own little bubble and experience something different can we truly appreciate all the challenges the world can offer. If we choose to hide our faces from uncomfortable subjects, it can lead to a much more narrow view of the world.

As a member of the national Faith and Justice Fellowship of the Prison Fellowship, I recently attended our Board of Directors meeting in Washington, D.C.  This diverse group of United States Senators, Congressmen, Governors, and state legislators gathered to discuss new ideas about how to help bring more Christian-based principles into our criminal justice system. The meeting was timely, as it coincided with the annual National Day of Prayer.

When we think of fellowship and prayer, it often seems contradictory to the criminal justice system. Someone goes to prison because they did something wrong in the crime they committed. The Bible even says in Isaiah 61:8 that God loves justice. Punishment is at the very foundation of our system of justice in the United States.  Still, as I sat through this meeting, I could not help but think about the various parts of the Bible that admonish us to pray for everyone, even those who have gone down the wrong path in life. It is easy to pray for good people; however, it is a tougher soul searching experience to pray for those who have done terrible things in their lives.

In the United States today, 98% of those sentenced to prison eventually finish their terms and are released.  That equates to roughly 700,000 people a year who leave the system and return to society.  Thousands of Christian leaders throughout the nation visit prisons, talk with families, and comfort the victims of crimes. Listening to the stories that these leaders have shared with others, I am convinced that this compassion and fellowship has lifted the lives and outlook for many people who will have to move ahead despite their previous actions or experiences in life.

I applaud those who offer to bring light and hope to all of those who struggle in life. Both victims and offenders are children of God and those engaged in prison fellowship demonstrate this everyday. While the criminal justice system should be allowed to provide swift and certain justice, we should also continue to pray for all of our fellowmen. 

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Prison Construction Bill to Have Strong Debate

MARY SELL, DECATUR DAILY

MONTGOMERY — Alabama Speaker of the House Rep. Mac McCutcheon said he’s not sure where the 105-member chamber stands on Gov. Robert Bentley’s $800 million prison construction plan.

“It’s too early to say,” McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, said after a Joint Legislative Prison Committee on Monday.

He said he expects a healthy discussion, including questions about how the massive contract would be awarded, what will happen to the state’s current prisons and where the new ones would be built.

McCutcheon said the location question is important to some lawmakers. It wasn’t answered last year when the prison plan died in the Legislature, he said.

“It will be an economic impact on some of those districts, and because of that, they want to take care of their districts,” McCutcheon said.

But Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, said identifying where the four mega-prisons will be built could hurt the legislation’s chances of passage.

Lawmakers asked Monday what would become of the shuttered prisons and were told some communities have expressed interest in taking over at least some facilities.

One of the prisons that could be affected is the Limestone Correctional Facility in Harvest, which opened in 1984.

Last week, Bentley said more lawmakers were buying into his proposal to borrow the $800 million and pay back the loan with money saved by closing outdated, crowded and understaffed facilities. The bill is expected to be a priority in the session, which starts Tuesday.

McCutcheon said the legislation will be taken up early in the session but not rushed. He said he hasn’t decided how he will vote.

Bentley and the Department of Corrections have been working on data to prove the prisons are needed and that building four at once under one contract will save money.

DOC recently paid an engineering firm to conduct an architectural and engineering study on 17 prisons. The full report, said to be more than 1,000 pages, has not been made available. The department said a public records request would be needed to obtain it.

Information presented recently by DOC Commissioner Jeff Dunn states needed improvements to the state’s 17 existing prisons would cost more than $440 million.

Seven of the 17 prisons were recommended for closing, based on their age and extent of needed repairs.

Meanwhile, $109 million “could extend useful life” of three newer prisons, including Limestone Correctional Facility.

According to the DOC, the new prisons would save the following each year:

• $17 million in reduced staffing. The new facilities would allow for a 6 percent reduction in security staff and 19 percent reduction in support staff, including administration, food service, accounting and transportation.

• $21 million reduction of overtime. The department spends about $30 million in correctional officer overtime per year.

• $10 million in consolidation of health care delivery.

• $2 million in other consolidation of services, including food services and utilities.

Ward said another corrections-related bill coming up in the Legislature will have Medicaid pick up more medical costs of eligible inmates in county jails, including mental health treatment costs.

Currently, county jail inmate’s Medicaid care is terminated when they enter jail, and it takes about three months to reinstate coverage when they leave jail, Ward said.

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