By Brandon Moseley
Monday, January 30, 2017 Alabama State Auditor Jim Zeigler (R) will present his alternative to solve Alabama’s prison overcrowding to the Prison Reform Committee Monday.
The committee meeting will be at 10:00 a.m. in room 325 of the Statehouse.
State Auditor Jim Zeigler is promoting his ‘Plan Z’ as “a cheaper and faster way to alleviate current inmate overcrowding.” Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R) for the second straight year is promoting an extreme proposal he is calling the Alabama Prison Transformation Initiative (APTI). The Bentley Administration wants to borrow an incredible $800 million to build four mega-prisons and close 14 of Alabama’s existing prisons.
Auditor Zeigler warned that the Bentley plan, “Would indebt the state for almost a billion dollars and still not solve the overcrowding problem.”
Zeigler said that Alabama Department of Corrections commissioner Jeff Dunn said last week that the Bentley plans would raise inmate capacity from the current 13, 318 to 16,000. Zeigler said: “That is nowhere near the current population of 23,318 inmates. We incur almost a billion dollars of debt for the next 30 years but do not come close to solving the problem. Big borrowed cost – no solution.”
Zeigler said that his Plan Z would build a new women’s prison, refurbish the old Tutwiler women’s facility to a new men’s prison, reduce overtime paid by the prison by up to $18.9 million, and continue with criminal justice reforms that are already causing inmate reductions.
Zeigler said that his plan would only require a bond issue of $123 million, which Zeigler points out is far less than the APTI bond issue of $800 million. Zeigler said that $7 million of the annual savings by cutting overtime will pay for the bond issue with no burden on the general fund or taxpayers.
Zeigler said, “Supporters of APTI are attempting to paint a picture that it is the only alternative to overcrowding and a potential federal takeover. APTI is NOT the only alternative. As a matter of fact APTI does not solve the overcrowding problem at all, by their own facts.”
Zeigler said, “Before the legislative session is over, Plan Z can be substantially improved by input from all concerned. This is a much better methodology than presenting the legislature with a package deal and seeking their approval.”
Zeigler wrote that a Jan. 20, 2017 analysis by the Legislative Fiscal Office determined that Plan Z could decrease inmates to 18,727, dropping overcrowding to 132% of federal guidelines. The figure of 135% is generally considered acceptable and is an appropriate target.
Gov. Bentley recently told the Alabama Media Group that borrowing the $800 million to build the four new mega prisons was his top legislative priority of the upcoming 2017 Legislative Sessions. Gov. Bentley had proposed the enormously expensive plan in 2016. The controversial plan was passed by the Alabama House of Representatives but went down in the Alabama Senate.
State Auditor Jim Zeigler has been a frequent critic of this and many other Bentley Administration proposals. Zeigler has been mentioned as a possible 2018 gubernatorial candidate. Bentley is term limited from serving another term. Many critics of the Bentley plan argue that a lame duck governor facing possible indictments and/or impeachment should not hamstring the next Governor with paying for prison debt run up by the previous administration.