By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Tuesday, April 5, the Alabama Senate passed Alabama Governor Robert Bentley’s (R) controversial plan to close sixteen prison and borrow $800 million to build four new prisons.
Governor Bentley released a statement on the Senate Passage of his Great State 2019 initiative, the Alabama Prison Transformation Initiative Act.
Governor Bentley said in his statement, “Today is another significant step in the effort to address the prison issues, as the Senate cleared a critical hurdle in transforming Alabama’s decades old prison system through the Prison Transformation Initiative Act. I commend the Senate for taking a bold and decisive step toward prioritizing public safety in our prison system with the construction of four new prisons. The passage of this bill will help reduce overcrowding and will provide safer conditions for corrections officers as well as inmates within the facilities. New facilities will also create greater opportunities to reduce the risk of recidivism. As this legislation moves to the House, I look forward to working with House members to pass the Prison Transformation Initiative Act.”
Giving an $800 million unbid contract to one general contractor has been very controversial as is the plan to house over 4,000 prisoners in the new mega facilities. Gov. Bentley claims that the state will be able to save the $50 million a year to service the massive debt by improving efficiency, reducing prison staff, and cutbacks to prison overtime. Many legislators remain skeptical.
State Senator Paul Sanford (R-Huntsville) said on Facebook, “Senate just voted on an $800 million Bond issue to build new Prisons with no debate, INSANE & IRRESPONSIBLE!”
Sen. Bill Holtzclaw (R-Madison) called it a bad bill.
Sen. Cam Ward supports Governor Bentley’s plan. Ward told Times Daily reporter Mary Sell, “By doing the consolidation and construction at the same time, you can pay off the bond issue in 10 years through the savings.” “We’re spending tens of millions of dollars a year just on repairs and maintenance on current facilities because they’re so old. Some were built during World War II.” Ward said consolidated cafeteria and health care services, some of the biggest prison costs, would also save money.
The Department of Corrections will cost the state $400 million this year. The struggling prisons are the second largest agency in the SGF, trailing only the troubled Alabama Medicaid Agency. Despite this, the systems is operating at over 185 percent of capacity and there is a possibility that the federal government may intervene if Alabama does not do something to combat the problem.
Governor Bentley has been leading the press on tours of the prisons to highlight the conditions.