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Department of Corrections hints at billion dollar prison plan

Bill Britt and Chip Brownlee

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A federal prison in Aliceville, Alabama, is similar in style to the types of prisons ADOC has sought to build to replace aging and overcrowded prisons across the state.

At the most recent Legislative Contract Review hearing, Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn revealed that the state is planning to build three mega-style prisons at a cost of approximately $1 billion.

Less than two years ago, the Legislature rejected a plan by then-Gov. Robert Bentley to spend approximately $850 million on four new so-called mega-prisons. Dunn appeared before the review committee to secure approval of an extension to a contract with Birmingham-based Hoar Program Management, LLC, to complete a study that would result in a request for proposal to build the three facilities. The taxpayer outlay for Hoar’s work will total nearly $11.5 million.

The Contract Review Committee did not immediately approve the expenditure but has no authority to stop the project beyond 45 days.

Until Dunn’s revelations at the recent contract review meeting, Gov. Kay Ivey’s administration has been quiet about any plans to build new prisons.

In the same week Dunn spoke about needing a billion dollars for new prisons, Ivey informed in-coming lawmakers that raising a fuel tax to pay for infrastructure projects would be her top priority in the 2019 Legislative Session.

When Bentley pushed for four prisons in 2017, the project nearly passed the Legislature, but it is unknown how the Republican super-majority will react to two large projects in one Legislative session.

The Alabama Department of Corrections originally opened bidding in November 2017 for the contract to hire a team to oversee a comprehensive plan to improve the state’s corrections infrastructure. That was just months after the Bentley-backed plan died in the final days of the legislative session.

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The plan was shot down two years in a row during the 2016 and 2017 legislative sessions. In 2017, a toned-down version of the plan passed in the Senate but died in the House in the final days of the legislative session.

The death of the prison bill was largely the result of splits between moderate and conservative GOP lawmakers who disagreed over the size of and methods within the plan, which would have authorized three new 4,000-bed regional men’s facilities and a 1,200-bed women’s facility at a cost of about $875 million.

The bill would have authorized a non-tradition design-build bidding process and a $1 billion bond issue, both of which drew the ire of conservatives who had worries about the cost and the bidding process.

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Under Bentley’s original plan authorized by the Alabama Prison Transformation Initiative Act (APTI), the almost one billion dollars needed would have been borrowed off the books and controlled by a small group of individuals as part of a government corporation.

Most of the state’s existing facilities would have been shut down once the new prisons were built.

Under Section 14-2-6, the Alabama Corrections Institution Finance Authority governs the financial aspects of the state’s prison system. The Code of Alabama allows the authority to create a public corporation that has the power to issue bonds to build prisons and then lease the prisons it owns to the authority. The public corporation consists of the governor, the commissioner of corrections, the director of finance, the lieutenant governor and the attorney general as determined by Code of Alabama Section 14-2-2 through Section 14-2-6.

Under Section 14-2-6, the board of the authority consists of three members: the governor, who serves as the president of the authority; the ADOC commission, who serves as vice-president; and the director of finance as secretary.

It is unclear how Ivey plans to structure funding for three mega-prisons.

During the contract review meeting, Dunn secured a contract extension for architectural firms Goodwyn Mills & Cawood and the Seay Seay & Litchfield. Seay Seay & Litchfield does not list a specific amount, but Goodwyn Mills & Cawood is being paid $1.95 million for its services.

“ADOC’s approach is to have engineering and architectural services on contract in the event that a need arises,” said Alabama Department of Corrections Public Information Manager Bob Horton. “There are remaining funds on the SS&L contract for anticipated projects, so this is a no cost, time extension contract.”

Horton said the amendment to the Hoar Program Management contract, “will provide needed funding for the Alabama Prison Project Management Team, led by HPM, to continue the development of a comprehensive, long-range prison infrastructure revitalization plan.”

The plan floated in previous years — conceived by ADOC Commissioner Jeff Dunn, pushed by then-Gov. Robert Bentley and sponsored by Sen. Cam Ward in the Senate — was an effort to reduce severe overcrowding in Alabama’s prisons, which has been verging on 200 percent capacity. The severe overcrowding has been declining in recent years after a number of sentencing reform bills went into effect.

But ADOC officials and the plan’s supporters have said new facilities are needed to expand capacity and improve conditions as overcrowding has proven persistent despite the sentencing reform.

Those issues — combined with worsening dilapidation of prisons that were built largely in the 1960s and 1970s, though some opened as long ago as 1939 — have resulted in numerous lawsuits and calls for improvement to the state’s prison infrastructure. Needed maintenance is estimated at $440 million.

Since taking office, Ivey has backed away from Bentley’s plan, though she did consider a special session her first year in office to address the prison construction bill after it failed in the regular Legislative session in 2017.

In her first State of the State Address, Ivey called for more modest methods of improving Alabama’s prisons. Compared to Bentley’s $1 billion, bond-funded plan, Ivey’s proposal, which ended up passing the Legislature last year, moved away from a complete overall of the prison system. Instead, the Legislature allocated a $30 million supplement to the Department of Corrections’ funding for last fiscal year — an increase legislators said at the time was needed to comply with the court decision that mandated changes to medical and mental health care in Alabam’s prisons.

ADOC received more than a 20 percent increase to its budget this year, with the $30 million in additional emergency funding to ADOC’s budget last fiscal year combined with this year’s General Fund allocations.

The new talks of a prison construction plan come as ADOC is struggling to comply with a federal court ruling last year that found Alabama’s prison mental health care to be “horrendously inadequate.” That ruling was the second phase of a three-part lawsuit. The third phase, which challenges medical and dental care in Alabama prisons, has yet to be heard.

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Economy

Governor announces auto supplier IAC plans Alabama expansion

IAC is committing $34.3 million in new capital investment to expand its new manufacturing facility located in Tuscaloosa County.

Brandon Moseley

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Gov. Kay Ivey announced Monday that International Automotive Components Group North America Inc. plans to invest over $55.9 million in expansion projects that will create 182 jobs at two Alabama facilities.

“International Automotive Components is a leading global auto supplier, and I am pleased that this world-class company is growing significantly in Alabama and creating good jobs in Cottondale and Anniston,” Ivey said. “IAC’s growth plans show that Alabama’s dynamic auto industry continues to expand despite today’s challenging environment.”

Nick Skwiat is the executive vice president and president of IAC North America.

“Alabama was the logical choice due to its skilled workforce and proximity to the customer,” Skwiat said. “We are excited to see the continued growth of the automotive industry in Alabama and we plan to grow right along with it. We thank the Governor and Secretary Canfield for their leadership in this sector.”

IAC is committing $34.3 million in new capital investment to expand its new manufacturing facility located in Tuscaloosa County. This facility will produce door panels and overhead systems for original equipment manufacturers. That project will create 119 jobs at the production site in Cottondale.

IAC also plans to invest $21.6 million at its manufacturing facility located in the former Fort McClellan in Anniston. That East Alabama project will create another 63 jobs.

This project builds on a milestone 2014 expansion that doubled the size of the Calhoun County facility. There IAC manufactures automotive interior components and systems. Key components produced at the Anniston plant include door panels, trim systems and instrument panels for original equipment manufacturers.

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IAC Group is a leading global supplier of innovative and sustainable instrument panels, consoles, door panels, overhead systems, bumper fascias and exterior ornamentation for original equipment manufacturers.

IAC is headquartered in Luxembourg and has more than 18,000 employees at 67 locations in 17 countries. The company operates manufacturing facilities in eight U.S. states.

“With operations around the globe, IAC is the kind of high-performance company that we want in Alabama’s auto supply chain to help fuel sustainable growth,” said Alabama Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield. “We look forward to working with IAC and facilitating its future growth in this strategic industrial sector.”

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Danielle Winningham is the executive director of the Tuscaloosa County Industrial Development Authority.

“International Automotive Components is a valued part of Tuscaloosa County’s automotive sector,” Winningham said. “We are grateful for IAC’s investment in our community and the career opportunities available to our area workforce as a result of their investment.”

“The City of Anniston is excited that IAC has made the decision to expand here. I have enjoyed working with the leadership at IAC, the Calhoun County EDC, and the state of Alabama to get this project finalized,” said Anniston Mayor Jack Draper. “This is even further evidence that Anniston is indeed open for business.”

Only Michigan has more automobile manufacturing jobs than the state of Alabama. Honda, Mercedes, Hyundai, Polaris, Toyota and soon Mazda all have major automobile assembly plants in the state of Alabama.

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Bill Britt

Opinion | Prisons, justice reform and the art of the possible

Politics is bound by the art of what’s possible. It is also true that those who never dare the impossible rarely achieve even the possible.

Bill Britt

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(STOCK PHOTO)

For years, prison reform advocates, media outlets and even a few public officials have called for new correctional facilities to address Alabama’s dangerously overcrowded prisons.

Now that it’s happening, some aren’t happy with how Gov. Kay Ivey is addressing the problem.

Is the Ivey Administration’s plan perfect? No. But building new facilities along with criminal justice reform — while all imperfect — is the last best hope to correct generations of cruel treatment, endangered correctional officers and corrupt practices.

German chancellor and statesman Otto von Bismarck said “Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable — the art of the next best,” this is the state of a workable solution to Alabama’s prison needs and criminal justice reform.

Yet, there is a concerted effort underway to stop the Ivey Administration from acquiring three new men’s prisons under a build-lease agreement.

Some lawmakers want another crack at financing additional facilities through a bond issue, and others want more say in the process. Still, the fact is that Ivey’s actions are the result of decades of legislative indifference and inaction to adequately address the appalling conditions at Alabama’s correctional facilities.

Even some advocates are working against the prison plan and while their intentions may be good it seem to their hand wringing is almost as disingenuous as lawmakers whining.

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What’s worse are those who spread disinformation to discredit process.

Many good people have worked hard to bring about an end to the state’s barbaric prison system and unfair justice, but lately it seems there is an outright movement to derail much needed change— simply because it’s not enough. As the saying goes, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

There have been so many false claims and sly manipulations of facts about the prison plan as to make even a hardened journalist want to cry “fake news.”

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But as for Ivey, frankly, my dears, I don’t think she gives a damn.

Here’s the hard truth. The Ivey Administration is building three new men’s prisons, and nothing will stop it. The fact is that three prisons are not enough; the administration should move forward to build a new women’s facility as soon as practicable.

Politics is bound by the art of what’s possible. It is also true that those who never dare the impossible rarely achieve even the possible.

Failing to recognize when the once impossible is coming to fruition is a sad reality. Still, in politics, as in life, good things happen while most people are navel-gazing or complaining.

Having visited three state prisons, St. Clair, Elmore, and Tutwiler, I can say without a doubt, the conditions in those places are a living hell.

A report from the U.S. Department of Justice released in April 2019, found “reasonable cause to believe that Alabama fails to provide constitutionally adequate conditions and that prisoners experience serious harm, including deadly harm, as a result.”

DOJ’s investigation revealed that prisoners were susceptible to “an enormous breath” of sexual abuse and assault but other types of violence as well, including gruesome murder and beatings that went without intervention.

When the state incarcerates a criminal, it assumes custodial care for that individual. No matter how heinous the crime or foul the person, the state has an obligation to feed, clothe, house and provide essential human services for their care and welfare. Another element is often overlooked; when a person is committed to prison, they lose their freedom, not their humanity. Therefore, under the law, they cannot be subject to cruel and unusual punishment.

Building three new men’s prisons is just the start; it must be accompanied by criminal justice reform.

“We are able to have a serious discussion about prison reform in Alabama because we have a governor who is serious about putting solutions into place,” Ivey’s press secretary Gina Maiola recently told APR. “Prison infrastructure is a key part of the equation, but criminal justice reform is also needed,” Maiola said.

By executive order on July 18, 2019, Ivey established the Study Group on Criminal Justice Policy. The Study Group released its findings on Jan 31, 2020.

The Study Group entered its mission with one pressing question; “What policies and programs can the State of Alabama implement to ensure the long-term sustainability of our prison system without jeopardizing public safety?” according to Supernumerary Associate Supreme Court Justice Champ Lyons, Jr., who led the effort.

In a letter to Ivey on the Study Groups finding, Lyons wrote [T]he challenges facing our prison system are exceedingly complex—ranging from the elimination of contraband weapons and drugs to the recruitment, retention, and training of correctional staff to the size of the inmate population and to the physical condition of an aging and far-flung prison infrastructure.” He further wrote, “But having thought through many of these issues with my Study Group colleagues, especially our legislative members, I can report to you that some meaningful answers to this question are not just possible; they are within our grasp.”

Prisons without justice reform is a hollow victory, and the Ivey Administration is committed to bringing about reasonable reforms.

“Prison infrastructure is a key part of the equation,” said Maiola, “but criminal justice reform is also needed.”

The issues facing Alabama’s prisons and criminal justice system are complex, and generations in the making; therefore, arriving at a universally acceptable solution is not imaginable for the moment if ever. But what once seemed impossible is soon to be realized.

No one gets everything they want, but it’s a great step toward getting what is needed simply because it’s possible.

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Governor

Federal judge refuses to temporarily block governor’s mask order

Following the issuing of those orders, the state saw noticeable drops in both COVID-19 positive cases and deaths.

Josh Moon

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Gov. Kay Ivey held a Coronavirus update Press Conference Wednesday September 30, 2020 in Montgomery, Ala. (Governor's Office/Hal Yeager)

A federal judge on Wednesday denied a petition for a temporary restraining order that would have blocked Gov. Kay Ivey’s statewide mask ordinance and a prohibition on large, non-work gatherings.

U.S District Court Judge Keith Watkins said, essentially, that the plaintiffs in the case had waited too long to file the request. In his order, Watkins said that a key component in determining the necessity of a TRO is “a need for speedy and urgent action to protect a plaintiff’s rights” while the case as a whole works its way through the legal system. 

The seven plaintiffs in this case, Watkins noted, didn’t file their complaint until late last month — some five months after the initial ban on large gatherings was issued in May and two months after Ivey, along with State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris, issued the mask ordinance. 

The time discrepancy, Watkins said, indicated that there was no “imminent irreparable harm” that could come to the plaintiffs without immediate action. 

“Plaintiffs waited an impermissible amount of time to seek … a temporary restraining order,” Watkins wrote. 

The lawsuit specifically challenges Ivey’s and Harris’s authority to issue health orders that ban all non-work gatherings of more than 25 people, order certain businesses and houses of worship temporarily closed and require that people in public areas in the state wear facial coverings. The plaintiffs claim the orders violate their constitutional rights, specifically their First, Fifth and 14th Amendment rights.

Following the issuing of those orders, the state saw noticeable drops in both COVID-19 positive cases and deaths. So far, the state has more than 140,000 cases and nearly 2,500 deaths.  

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The lawsuit will move forward, with attorneys for Ivey and Harris expected to file a motion to dismiss in the coming days. 

Former Alabama chief justice Roy Moore is representing the plaintiffs.

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Bill Britt

Opinion | Gov. Kay Ivey didn’t cave

Ivey stood her ground on Wednesday, refusing to cave to those who want to end the mask order.

Bill Britt

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Gov. Kay Ivey held a Coronavirus update Press Conference Wednesday September 30, 2020 in Montgomery, Ala. (Governor's Office/Hal Yeager)

Gov. Kay Ivey extended the statewide mandatory mask ordinance on Wednesday despite pressure from her party’s right-wing. Nationally and here in Alabama, many Republicans have complained that any restrictions on their behavior during the COVID-19 outbreak is a violation of their individual liberty.

Ivey stood her ground on Wednesday, refusing to cave to those who want to end the mask order. For most of the COVID-19 pandemic here in the state, Ivey has followed health experts’ advice rather than politicos. Standing up to the Republican Party’s right-wing is not an easy task even in the best of times, but these days, with the party more radicalized than ever, Ivey is taking a huge political risk.

But like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, she hasn’t bowed, she hasn’t bent, and she hasn’t burned.

These are divisive times when even the best of people seem to be at war over the nation’s direction.

“Give me liberty or give me death” may have been a great rallying cry in 1776; it’s less persuasive as a public health policy.

Lately, some Alabama conservatives sound more like the John Birch Society members than the Republican Party of just a few years ago.

“In the name of fighting the coronavirus, more and more state governors are ruling by decree, curtailing freedoms and ordering residents to stay at home,” says the Birch website.

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The Republican Party in the 1960s deemed Birchers dangerous and severed ties with the group. But like 60s racism, Red-baiting and a fear that socialist are lurking behind every corner, all that’s old is new again.

Not surprisingly, former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore is one of the leading voices in the fight to discredit the Ivey administration’s COVID orders.

Senate President Pro Tem Republican Del Marsh is part of the anti-masker movement and has suggested he’d like to see more people become infected to build the state’s overall immunity to the virus.

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Marsh is certainly not alone; there is a motivated mop of miscreants who sees any restriction as an affront to them doing anything they please. Perhaps they can refuse to wear a seatbelt or maybe light up a cigar the next time they are dinning at the county club and show some real radical resistance.

The truth is many of those who condemn masks as an intrusion on personal freedom would happily compel their fellow citizens to pray at school and stand for the national anthem. They are more than willing to regulate liberties when it contradicts their opinion of what is good and wholesome. But heaven forbid they wear a mask to protect others—that is one regulation too far.

Like a pubescent boy, they live in a fantasy world; without consequences.

Anti-maskers are given to a form of herd mentality, which is part of a broader movement to discredit science for political purposes.

Perhaps the most critical job of a governor or lawmaker is the heath and safety of the public.

Masks protect others more than the wearer, and where the “Golden rule” should apply, it is trampled on just like Jesus’ admonition to love our neighbors as ourselves.

But I suspect that many of those who continuously espouse conspiracies, apocalyptic nightmares, and end time prophecies actually don’t like themselves very much and therefore don’t really care about the shared responsibilities we have toward others.

Writing for Business Insider, George Pearkes explains the four different types of liberty, according to David Hackett Fischer’s Albion’s Seed to explain mandatory mask orders.

“Efforts to require masks are a straightforward expression of ordered liberty,” writes Pearkes. “The concept of ordered liberty argues that without structure and a set of rules which are enforced for the common good, society would devolve into chaos.” He further concludes that “Mask orders are quite literally saving society from itself, so that we can be more free than we would if COVID spread even further and faster.”

Ordered liberty can be seen at the heart of Ivey’s policies during the coronavirus plague.

But for anti-maskers, “Live Free or Die” means they are free to do what they want, even if it kills you.

Ivey is putting people ahead of politics. We should wish more would follow her example.

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