By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Whether or not the State should borrow $800+ million to build four new massive prisons, has been one of the most discussed topics in Montgomery this legislative session. Alabama prisons have been overcrowded, understaffed, underfunded, and poorly maintained, for decades. Governor Robert Bentley has been promoting this ambitious prison building project as part of his controversial Great State 2020 Plan.
On Saturday, inmates at the Holman State Prison in Atmore got into a fight in their dorms. When the prison guards entered to restore order, the prisoners stabbed a guard and Warden Carter Davenport. Reportedly a 100 inmates were involved in the riot that followed, in which they started a fire. The prisoners, who apparently have contraband phones, posted pictures and video from the event to their YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter accounts. The Corrections Department rushed three Correctional Emergency Response Teams (CERT) to the troubled prison, and eventually, order was restored.
The Alabama Political Reporter asked Senator Cam Ward (R-Alabaster): Would putting more prisoners in a bigger, super-max type prison make for a potentially more difficult uprising?
Senator Ward said, “Actually, this is why you need the proposed prisons. The problem you have is the layout of the current facilities and the burden it imposes on the officers trying to enforce order. With the new facilities the layout would provide for much more smaller, and secure parts of each prison, thereby allowing officers to oversee the facilities better. Currently you have large open areas, with some having added wings and dorms that were not part of the original structure. This is a huge public safety problem and most officers would agree that new facilities would be must better in helping them accomplish their jobs.”
Sen. Ward warned, “I believe that, unfortunately, more incidents like the Holman riot will continue in Alabama, until we upgrade our facilities and provide more support for the law enforcement officers charged with making them secure.”
Both the guard and Warden Davenport’s injuries do not appear to be life threatening.
Gov. Bentley said in a statement on Saturday: “There have now been two events in just the last four days involving violence within two Department of Corrections facilities. Alabama’s prison system is at a critical point. A volatile mix of overcrowding and understaffing have created an environment that is dangerous to both inmates as well as the Corrections Officers who serve our State. Our State must take the necessary steps to address and solve this problem immediately. We must reduce overcrowding and provide facilities that are safer and more secure for both inmates and corrections officers.”
Holman is now being searched by the three CERT teams and members of the Department of Correction Intelligence Division for the phones that were used to transmit those disturbing images to the outside world.
On February 16, new Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn told the Alabama Prison Committee that the massive $800 billion cost of the project would be bid out to just one contractor who will be responsible for building all four of the prisons, three for men and one for women. The $800 million project would be paid for with an $800 million bond issue that the people of Alabama will have to pay $50 million a year for over the next thirty years. Dunn declined to say where the four new prisons will be located. Dunn said only that there will be one men’s prison in North Alabama, one in central Alabama, and one in South Alabama.
The Alabama Prison Transformation Initiative Act (Senate Bill 287) is sponsored by Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee Chairman Senator Trip Pittman (R-Montrose). The House version of the Governor’s bill is House Bill 314 by House Ways and Means Chairman Steve Clouse (R-Ozark).
Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R) said, “We have made significant progress over the last year to improve our criminal justice system, and with the construction of four new and modern prisons, Alabama is poised to be a national leader in safe and effective incarceration of inmates. We cannot move our State forward without addressing the issues that have plagued the prison system for decades. We have a good plan to address the issues and with the partnership of the Alabama Legislature, we can solve the issues and make the Department of Corrections more efficient.”
The Construction of the three regional men’s facilities and one female facility would begin in the fall of 2017 and is expected to be completed within three years.