By MARY SELL and TODD STACY, Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Alabama lawmakers are expected to meet in their respective caucuses in Montgomery today to discuss a new draft of a bill to build new prisons using a combination of borrowed and federal funds.
In a letter to lawmakers Tuesday, Gov. Kay Ivey called the prison infrastructure issue urgent.
“We are already under a variety of federal court orders that impose certain mandates, which take critical funds away from hardworking Alabamians and families,” Ivey said. “And if our prison infrastructure issues are not resolved in a timely manner and the state is unsuccessful in court, our budgets will be even more significantly impacted. As Alabama did in past years, we could once again be subject to government by federal court order rather than government by our own elected officials.
“We have the power to avoid this outcome.”
Inside Alabama Politics on Tuesday reported that a second draft on the prison proposal was now in circulation, this one slightly scaled back from the first that emerged last month. The draft calls for a multi-phase plan that includes:
- Phase I: Two new 4,000-bed men’s prisons in Elmore and Escambia counties;
- Phase II: A new 1,000 bed women’s prison in Elmore County and renovations or demolition and reconstruction to existing prisons in Jefferson and Limestone counties and either Barbour or Bullock counties;
- Phase III: When Phase II is mostly complete, the Alabama Department of Corrections will perform “an evaluation of men’s prison facilities based on a current facilities assessment and inmate population trends to determine if additional facility beds need to be replaced.”
The bill also allows for the purchase or rental of the Perry County Correctional Facility. The privately owned prison is currently empty.
The bill would authorize the state to borrow up to $785 million. The annual debt service on the bond would be about $50 million, according to a summary document obtained by ADN.
Meanwhile, lawmakers have said they expect to be able to use several hundred million dollars from the federal American Rescue Plan Act on prisons. A large chunk of that funding coming in the form of lost revenue, money the state would have earned in tax receipts had it not been for the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Alabama Department of Finance this week said the exact amount hasn’t yet been determined.
Officials have told Alabama Daily News that using the Rescue Plan money would allow work on new prisons to begin as early as the new year.
But first, lawmakers must pass the legislation in a yet-to-be called special session. Sources involved in the discussions told ADN that could happen as soon as the last week of September.
The three new prisons would be built on land the state already owns. The new men’s prison in Elmore County would be designed with space for medical, mental and other health care needs, substance abuse and treatment space and educational and programming space.
One year after the completion of the two new men’s prisons, the existing Hamilton Aged and Infirmed Center and the Staton, Elmore, and Kilby facilities would all be closed, according to the draft.
Similarly, the current Julia Tutwiler women’s prison would close after the completion of a new female facility.
Lawmakers early this year balked at Gov. Kay Ivey’s plan to lease three new men’s prisons from private builders for nearly $3 billion over 30 years. That plan fell apart in June when one of the builders couldn’t secure financing.
The draft bill says “existing prison facility infrastructure lacks sustained maintenance and lifecycle replacement has not been routinely performed on all facilities” and “in many facilities, renovation would be uneconomical or cost-prohibitive.”
Ivey’s letter cites $1 billion in deferred maintenance at current prisons, the result “of decades of neglect.”
“Now, however, through strong collaboration and hard work from your leadership in the Alabama Legislature – representing both chambers and both parties – you will receive a plan that will go a long way toward addressing these critical, decades-old issues,” she wrote.
“Please consider the opportunity we have in front of us. This is our moment – this Legislature and this administration. I stand ready and willing to actively support you.”