New prison proposal to be presented; Governor Kay Ivey urges legislative action
Governor Kay Ivey on Tuesday called on lawmakers to endorse a prison construction plan the day before Democrats and Republicans were due to meet in the House to hear presentations on the proposal in their factions.
In a letter to members of the House and Senate, Ivey wrote that the current facilities – which are the subject of a federal lawsuit for rampant violence – are “untenable” and dangerous to prisoners and staff working in the facilities.
“Many of our existing facilities face server space limitations in providing critical services such as mental health services, drug abuse treatment, and educational and professional programs,” the letter said. “Experience teaches that an effective way to reduce crime is to prepare our current inmates for life outside of prison once they have been paroled or served.”
The letter was sent after prison plan legislators finalized a proposal they are expected to bring to lawmakers in informal meetings on Wednesday. The plan aims to combat rampant violence in the state’s prison system that has left many inmates in fear for their lives and has filed a federal lawsuit that could spark a takeover of the state prison system.
House Ways and Means General Fund chairman Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, said Tuesday that lawmakers had agreed on a proposal to build new facilities. He declined to discuss details, but said the payments could include using funds from the CARES Act to replace “revenue received” related to the construction.
“We finally got the final draft for members last night,” he said. “You went through it today.”
Ivey followed a “build / lease” model earlier this year in which the state would lease new facilities from two private companies. This proposal failed because of the local opposition, the skepticism of the legislature about the price tag and the withdrawal of financial support. The governor has been meeting with lawmakers since early June to work out a new proposal.
The summer talks about the construction of prisons had also included discussions about new buildings and renovations of existing facilities.
Alabama prisons have seen a wave of violence in recent years; Detainees have designated some facilities as “war zones”. At least 10 inmates died in the state’s prisons in July.
The U.S. Department of Justice released reports in 2019 and 2020 describing extensive inmate violence; Violence by prison officers against inmates as well as abuse and mismanagement of staff. The DOJ sued the state last December over conditions in Alabama prisons, saying the crisis violated the Prisoners’ Eighth Amendment of Cruel and Unusual Penalties.
If the state loses the lawsuit, the prison system could go into receivership. In this situation, a federal judge would force the state to take certain measures to bring the prisons under control. This can be anything from mandated spending increases to the release of inmates. The state prison system was placed under compulsory administration in the late 1970s due to overcrowding and shabby conditions; as a result, legislators had to approve significant increases in prison spending.
Ivey and Jeff Dunn, the Alabama Correctional Commissioner, have argued for years that state prisons are past their useful life and lack the space for training and programming.
“These challenges did not arise overnight – or even during the last decade,” Ivey wrote in the letter. “You are not the fault of any single legislature or government. Instead, these challenges we face today are the result of decades of neglect. “
But the legislature was cool with the idea of a new prison building. Legislators turned down bonds for new prisons in 2016 and 2017. Both Democrats and Republicans asked questions about the price of the prison building, which was hundreds of millions of dollars.
Democrats were also skeptical about whether the new build would address the situation in the state’s prisons and called for broader reforms to the criminal justice system. You have also criticized Dunn’s management of the department.
House minority leader Anthony Daniels, D-Huntsville, said Tuesday that he wanted each construction to include new women’s facilities to replace Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka, an almost 80-year prison. The state issued a declaration of consent with the DOJ in 2015 after a federal investigation found the harassment and abuse of female inmates there.
Daniels also said he wanted criminal justice laws to be included in every prison motion.
“Reforms are a top priority for us,” he said. “I cannot imagine that we can make a difference without reform measures being a priority.”
If the factions approve the plan, Ivey will convene a special session of the legislature later this year to consider the proposal.
Clouse said he wasn’t sure what the support would be.
“I was too busy working on the plan to question anyone,” he said Tuesday night. “This is tomorrow.”
Contact Brian Lyman, the Montgomery Advertiser reporter at 334-240-0185 or [email protected]