A draft Department of Corrections (DOC) revamp proposing the construction of two new men's prisons, followed by one women's prison, is slated to come up in a special legislative session this month as Alabama senate and house lawmakers meet with their caucuses this week to get a tentative vote tally.
The bill backed by Gov. Kay Ivey's administration has yet to be made public, nor has the governor called a special legislative session for the bill. However, in a letter sent to state lawmakers on Tuesday, Ivey urged the Alabama legislature to act on the "urgent" state prison crisis. The plea cites more than $1 billion in overdue upkeep due to years of funding neglect.
The proposed plan lays out three phases for the construction of new men's and women's facilities and the renovation of existing facilities, followed by further study on the state of prisons in Alabama.
While the draft bill does not name a project figure, a previous attempt to build two men's "mega-prisons" would have costed the state $3 billion. Phases two and three of the draft bill which includes a women’s prison and other renovations are likely to push that cost higher. The Outlook has learned legislators may be breaking up the project into three phases in order to lessen the sticker shock of the entire prison system overhaul.
Phase one of the bill covers the construction of two new men's prisons on state-owned property in Elmore and Escambia counties. If passed, it will be the second piece of legislation this year to build two facilities near Tallassee and Atmore. The first plan derailed, however, when private prison company CoreCivic (contracted to construct the prisons, while the DOC would lease, staff and operate them) failed to get financing by the June 1 deadline.
The latest plan proposes funding will come from a bond issue of up to $785 million, general fund appropriations and COVID-19 relief money allocated in the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), which DOC commissioner Jeff Dunn sought permission to use in a letter sent to the U.S. Treasury Department earlier this year.
Like any other public works project, construction contracts will be up for bidding. However, the draft bill also allows for negotiation between the state and contractors already vetted for the projects during the Department of Corrections' "extensive competitive lease evaluation process." Neither CoreCivic nor any other contractor is mentioned in the bill's specs.
Phase two outlined in the draft bill begins when prison construction in phase one is 60% complete and includes the renovation of existing correctional facilities in Limestone and Jefferson counties, construction of a new women's prison and renovation of one more facility in either Barbour or Bullock counties. The draft bill does not propose funding sources for these projects, instead allowing them to be determined by the legislature on a pay-per-project basis.
Phase three begins when phase two is 75% complete, and proposes the commissioner of the DOC conduct a study on the "status of all correction facilities, trends in the inmate population and all other relevant factors," to be submitted to the governor and legislature.
According to the ACLU of Alabama, 31 state prisoners have died by homicide, suicide or drug overdose in 2021 so far.
An ongoing lawsuit by the U.S. Department of Justice alleges the DOC has repeatedly violated the constitution's 8th Amendment, prohibition of "cruel and unusual punishment," for the prisoner-on-prisoner violence caused by overcrowding and mismanagement.
Gov. Kay Ivey is expected to call a special legislative session on the bill by the end of the month. Depending on the mood of the caucus meetings, however, that special session may come sooner.