By MARY SELL and TODD STACY, Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Summer discussions between lawmakers and Gov. Kay Ivey’s administration on how to fix the state’s crowded and crumbling prisons have entered the draft legislation phase.
Officials aren’t talking publicly about the details, but Ivey said she’s “encouraged” by the work done so far.
A draft bill prepared at the State House calls for new and renovated prison infrastructure over a 10 year period.
“While there has yet to be a final plan in terms of legislation, I’m encouraged by the progress being made from the ongoing discussions with the Legislative leadership,” Ivey told Alabama Daily News in a written statement. “For several months, they have engaged with our team, and I can assure the people of Alabama that we are like-minded and laser-focused on finding a solution to our decades-long problem within our correctional facilities. I’m extremely hopeful they are on the right-track, and I am encouraged by their holistic approach to this issue.”
The new draft lists sites for the new facilities that are different from what the private developers had proposed under Ivey’s lease plan.
The potential three-phase, 10-year timeline calls for:
- One male prison and one female prison on state-owned land in Elmore County, a second male prison on state-owned land in Escambia County;
- The renovation “or, if necessary, the demolition and reconstruction,” of existing men’s prisons in Jefferson and Limestone counties and Barbour or Bullock counties;
- The option of constructing a third male prison if deemed necessary based on the population of existing facilities.
Part of the new Elmore County men’s prison would be designated for mental health care and substance abuse addiction treatment.
The draft also calls for the lease or purchase of the Perry County Correctional Facility to facilitate work release and other rehabilitative and re-entry efforts aimed at reducing recidivism. The Perry County facility is privately owned and currently empty.
The bill does not include dollar amounts, but state leaders have told Alabama Daily News a significant amount of American Rescue Plan dollars allocated to the state could be used, lessening the amount that would need to be borrowed. Using that federal money would allow work to begin sooner. Officials are still figuring out how much of the federal money can be used on prisons.
The already existing Alabama Corrections Institution Authority would be authorized to issue multiple bonds throughout the phases, according to the draft that does not include dollar amounts.
The bonds would be repaid first through ADOC’s current appropriations and savings from shuttering and selling or leasing existing outdated facilities, including rent or sale proceeds of the Kilby prison site in Montgomery.
The draft bill also lists a portion of a one mill tax currently allocated to the Alabama Department of Human Resources as a possible “second priority security” if the ADOC appropriations and savings aren’t adequate to repay the bond. A “third priority security” is revenue from a 10% tax on “all spirituous or vinous liquors.”
That revenue currently goes toward the state’s Public Welfare Trust Fund, the major operating fund of the Department of Human Resources.
These revenue pledges are last resort funding that would only be reached if the appropriations made to ADOC are not sufficient to service the bonds.
“My team and I continue to be available and offer any resource needed in order for them to craft this plan and look forward to seeing the final product,” Ivey said.
Senate President Pro Tem Greg Reed, R-Jasper, said Ivey’s office and legislative leadership have been “working together on finding a comprehensive plan to address this decades-long issue.”
“We will continue to work together to find the best path forward for our state,” Reed said.
Lawmakers early this year balked at Ivey’s plan to lease three new men’s prisons from private builders for nearly $3 billion over 30 years. That plan crumbled in June.
Asked about the draft, a spokeswoman for ADOC said the department is committed to serving as a helpful resource to legislative leadership and the governor’s office.
“At this time, we are focused on answering any questions they ask of us, providing background information and data as requested, and participating in their ongoing discussions as appropriate,” Kristi Simpson, ADOC’s deputy to the chief of staff, said.