Senate OKs prison construction, looks for communities to build new facilities

Published 12:32 am Friday, March 17, 2017

Much thought went into a prison construction bill approved 23 to 11 by the Alabama Senate Thursday, Sen. Jimmy Holley, who represents Covington County, said.

Senators voted 23 to 11 to on a much smaller prison construction bill than was originally proposed, and one that authorizes state construction of only one.

The bill calls for three new prisons for men, Holley said, but two would have to be built by local entities before the state could move forward with construction of a third.

The legislation calls for requests for proposals (RFPs) according to rules and regulations adopted by the prison commissioners, Holley said, and partnerships with local governments.

Local communities could form authorities and borrow up to $225 million to build prison facilities.

“The state would guarantee the local bonds,” Holley said, adding that it also would lease the locally-built facilities for up to $13.5 million per year.

Last year, Gov. Robert Bentley and Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn asked for an $800 million bond to build four new prisons, including one for prisons. They argued that the prison population was at 173 percent of capacity, and that crowding makes the issue of prison violence worse.

Several changes have been made to the legislation since then, and the bill approved by the Senate does not include a new facility for women.

Another issue that arose when Gov. Robert Bentley originally proposed the construction of four new prisons last year is the number of local governments that went into debt to finance water and sewerage systems for state prisons.

“In this, the state is directed to make them whole,” Holley said.

The downfall, Holley said, is that if the bill is signed into law, it will mean the closing of several facilities housing prisoners.

“Some of the people who work there will have to be uprooted, and this could cause hardships,” he said.

“A lot of thought went into this. This a problem we inherited that is 40 to 50 years old. It would cost more to repair the prisons we have than to build new ones.”

The proposal now goes to the House. The legislature adjourned for spring break yesterday, and will convene again on April 4.