By CAROLINE BECK Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed lease agreements for two men’s prisons on Monday, part of her plan for three new facilities the state will lease for 30 years at an estimated total cost of about $3 billion.
Construction for the two facilities is expected to begin later this year or the beginning of 2022.
“I am pleased that we have reached this important milestone in the Alabama Prison Program, the cornerstone of a multifaceted strategy to address the ADOC’s longstanding challenges and failing prison infrastructure,” Ivey said in a statement. “ADOC’s existing dilapidated infrastructure is failing at a rate of one facility every two years, exorbitant deferred maintenance costs are rising by the day, and the Courts may act imminently if real progress is not made soon – given all these risks, there is not one minute to spare.”
The two lease agreements are with entities of prison builder CoreCivic. They will construct, own and maintain the facilities. It will be the Alabama Department of Corrections that staffs and administers the prisons.
A fact sheet from the governor’s office on the three facilities says the leases, maintenance agreements, are subject to an “affordability limit” of $88.6 million as indexed to fiscal year 2022. The first payment in 2025 will be about $94 million and will increase from there.
The governor’s office did not release financial details of the agreements saying those would become available “once financial close is achieved with CoreCivic.” Alabama Daily News reported over the weekend that the total lease cost for the three prisons is estimated at slightly more than $3 billion.
The Elmore County facility will specialize in inmate populations with medical and mental health needs and will be located on Rifle Range Road in Tallassee. Construction is expected to begin within 90 days of financial closure with CoreCivic.
The Escambia County facility will be located on Bell Fork Road near Atmore and is anticipated to begin construction this year or early 2022.
The two facilities will provide approximately 7,000 beds.
The ADOC will staff and maintain full operational control of the facilities and construction is anticipated to be completed by 2025. No lease payments will be made during the construction phase of the prisons. An option to extend the state’s lease agreement beyond the 30-year term is included and the state can choose to extend for an additional five years.
Some social justice groups as well as state lawmakers have criticized Ivey’s prison plan.
Rep. Chris England, who chairs the Democratic Party and has been a frequent critic of the Department of Corrections, claimed the system as a whole is “is being horribly mismanaged.”
“Building new prisons is not going to change the fact that we are struggling to deal with the old ones,” England said on Twitter.
The U.S. Department of Justice in December filed suit against the State of Alabama and the Alabama Department of Corrections saying that failing to prevent violence in men’s prisons violates the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights of inmates. This lawsuit was the result of a multi-year investigation into allegations of Alabama prisons failing to provide adequate protection from prisoner-on-prisoner violence and sexual abuse, failing to provide sanitary conditions and prison staff using excessive uses of force on prisoners.
Carla Crowder, executive director of the Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, said the state needs to address the systemic issues it is being sued for, not simply build new prisons.
“What a disappointment for the people of Alabama,” Crowder said in a statement to ADN. “It’s an economic mistake, an environmental mistake, and a human rights tragedy. In building more prisons while failing to invest in community services, education, and alternatives to incarceration, we are repeating the failures of the last four decades that landed Alabama right where we are – with the worst prisons in the country and an expensive federal lawsuit.”
The overall price tag on the prisons troubles some lawmakers, especially those who have questioned the transparency in the lease process that does not require their approval. State Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Range, chairs the Senate General Fund budget committee. He took part in a briefing to lawmakers from the governor’s office last week and described a “growing frustration” in the legislative branch.
He said lawmakers had repeatedly been told the prisons wouldn’t cost more than $88 million per year.
“And we weren’t happy with that,” Albritton said.
ADOC Commissioner Jeff Dunn maintained that this prison plan is the best the state can hope for under the circumstances and will lead to a safer environment by reducing overcrowding.
“It is no secret that, due to decades of inaction and a lack of resources, our correctional system is at a crossroads. Thanks to Governor Ivey’s vision, tenacity, and leadership, we have reached an important step in our continued work to chart a transformative new course for the Department,” Dunn said in a statement. “Leasing, staffing, and operating modernized prison infrastructure that is owned and strictly maintained by the private sector minimizes our short- and long-term risk for an initiative of this necessary magnitude. These facilities will provide a safer, more secure environment in which our heroic staff can better deliver effective, evidence-based rehabilitative programming to our inmate population.”