Category: Alabama Prisons
Construction will start early next year on the two 4,000-bed men’s prisons the Alabama Legislature approved after a rapid-fire, five-day special session last week.
The package of bills Gov. Kay Ivey signed into law late Friday includes the borrowing of up to $785 million for the two prisons and the use of $400 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act for the mega-prisons in central and south Alabama. A second phase of construction allows for a new women’s prison and renovations to three existing men’s prisons.
Prison proposals have floated around the State House for years, dying when they couldn’t overcome turf wars and pricetags.
So, what changed the attitudes of legislators this year?
“There was a recognition of need that I don’t think we’ve seen before,” Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Range, told Alabama Daily News. Read more.
MONTGOMERY — Gov. Kay Ivey and lawmakers celebrated Friday afternoon as the governor signed bills to spend $1.3 billion on two new 4,000-bed men’s prisons. A smaller women’s prison and renovations to some existing prisons will come later.
Ivey said that the building of the new prisons is the legally, fiscally and morally right thing as the state addresses its prisons crisis.
“Let me be clear, while more reform of the system can and does need to be addressed in the future – and I am committed to that as are many legislators – today’s bill signing on the construction part of this issue is a major step forward,” Ivey said. Read more.
Also in the Legislature:
Legislature, Ivey Approve Parole Change Bill
MONTGOMERY — The Alabama Legislature gave final passage to a bill that requires those who are released early from prison to undergo mandatory electronic monitoring.
The week-long special session began with the possibility of two criminal justice bills passing but ended with just one making it to Gov. Kay Ivey’s desk. She signed it Friday afternoon.
The Alabama Department of Corrections has spent more than $25.2 million on overtime this fiscal year trying to fill shifts in its understaffed prisons.
Overtime and the chronic staffing shortage is part of the discussions this week as lawmakers make their case for two new 4,000-bed men’s prisons. Since the beginning of fiscal 2016, ADOC has spent about $185 million on overtime, according to information given to Alabama Daily News by the Alabama State Personnel Department.
Plans for the prisons passed the House Wednesday and a Senate committee Thursday. The Senate is expected to vote on the plan Friday and could then adjourn the special session.
Proponents of the plan say the new sites will be easier to staff than the old and dangerous lockups that have about half the number of needed employees.
“Part of what we hope to do with this new construction is improve the conditions and the safety of those that work there, so it won’t be so difficult to hire new employees,” Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Range, told ADN. Read more.
Previously in the Legislature
Prison Construction Plan Passes House, Moves to the Senate
MONTGOMERY — The Alabama House of Representatives on Wednesday passed a prison constriction package, including a bill to borrow up to $785 million to build two mega-jails, marking an optimistic outlook for final passage as the legislation moves to the Senate.
The prison construction legislation will be in the Senate General Fund budget committee meeting at 9 a.m. Thursday. If approved there, the package could receive final passage and go to Gov. Kay Ivey Friday in the quick-moving special session.
House Bill 4, the multi-phased plan to build three new prisons and renovating others, caused the most debate in the House on Wednesday but ultimately passed in a mostly party-line vote of 74-27.
The House also passed two other funding bills that would appropriate $135 million for renovations in prisons, allocate $19 million to purchase the Perry County Correctional Facility and use $400 million of the state’s American Rescue Plan Act funds. Read more.
More on the prison debate:
MONTGOMERY — The House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday approved two criminal sentencing reform bills, sending them to the full House of Representatives for a vote as soon as Wednesday. The bills, sponsored by committee Chairman Jim Hill, R-Moody, are separate from the prison construction package that also advanced in committee Tuesday but were included by Gov. Kay Ivey in her call for a special session. Read more.
MONTGOMERY — The prison construction package negotiated by Gov. Kay Ivey and top legislative leaders advanced in a House committee Tuesday, setting it up for a vote of the full House Wednesday.
Republicans on the House Ways and Means General Fund Committee expressed confidence in the plan, but some Democrats remain concerned over the cost and ultimate effectiveness of the new buildings.
Rep. Lynn Greer, R-Rogersville, said that he thinks the new facilities are necessary to reduce the violence and keep staff numbers up.
“The bill is a good start. It’s not the solution to all our problems and it’s going to take a lot of money, but one thing it may help us do is keep employees,” Greer said. Read more.
Also Tuesday: Sentencing Reform Bills Pass Committee
Alabama’s plan to use $400 million in federal COVID-19 relief money on new prisons has caught the attention of top Democrats in Congress who moved Monday to try to prevent the expenditure.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-NY, sent a letter to Treasury Department Secretary Janet Yellen asking her to stop Alabama from “misusing” a portion of the state’s American Rescue Plan Act allocation.
“Directing funding meant to protect our citizens from a pandemic to fuel mass incarceration is in direct contravention of the intended purposes of the ARP legislation and will particularly harm communities of color who are already disproportionately impacted by over-incarceration and this public health crisis,” Nadler wrote.
Alabama legislators, however, said the plan to help fix Alabama’s prison crowding issues is a legitimate use of federal funds sent to states to make up for revenue lost during the pandemic. Read more.
MONTGOMERY — The Alabama Legislature convened at the State House Monday for the start of a special session to consider a plan to build three new prisons along with two sentencing reform bills.
The meeting is the latest attempt to fix the state’s crowded, crumbling and chaotic prison system that for decades has been the target of federal investigations, lawsuits, court orders and threatened takeovers.
The priority in the construction bill is two 4,000-bed men’s facilities in Elmore and Escambia counties. Lawmakers estimate their costs at between $1.2 billion and $1.3 billion. The full plan, which is sponsored by Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, includes a new women’s prison along with renovations of other men’s prisons in its second phase. Read more.
The Alabama Legislature will soon debate a prison plan that leaders say would address issues with the state’s outdated and crowded facilities and the violence and poor care that has prompted federal investigations and threats of takeovers.
Lawmakers begin meeting Monday afternoon in a special session. Read on for 10 things to know about the session.