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Corrections asks for $42 million budget increase

Brandon Moseley



Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn presented the ADOC fiscal year 2020 budget request to an Alabama joint House and Senate budget committee meeting in Montgomery.

“The Department of Corrections is undergoing unprecedented change,” Dunn said. The ADOC is, “Transforming the department into the most respected and trusted law enforcement agency in the state.”

Dunn told the legislature that the department incarcerates 20,000 inmates in 26 facilities and oversees 3,500 persons in community corrections.

“The 2018 occupancy rate dropped to just 163 percent of capacity continuing a five-year trend of decreasing overcrowding,” Dunn said. The goal is to get down to 145 percent capacity.

Dunn said that this is being accomplished through sentencing reform. While the prison population has gotten smaller the population has gotten much more violent.

Dunn said that the department is having to deal with deteriorating infrastructure. ADOC has retained two independent companies to estimate the proper staffing levels for the prison system.

Dunn said that in 2017 the governor approached him asking him to develop a plan that will provide long term fixes to a generational problem. ADOC is currently working on preparing an architectural plan to develop new facilities that will be safer for both inmates and officers.

After a dark past, Tutwiler prison for women, “is now recognized as a national model for the incarceration of women,” Dunn said.


Dunn said that prisoner can earn a degree from Auburn University while they are incarcerated free of charge. Twenty-two students are in their third year. Other students have gotten credentials from a theological seminary and the minister to other inmates. 700 inmates have earned certificates through the two-year college system.

Dunn said that staffing is a challenge.

“We are down to 50 percent or lower staffing,” Dunn said. “This is related to an increase in the level of violence.” Gang activity, extortion, contra-ban, are all contributing factors to the violence.

Ten inmates were murdered in Alabama prisons in 2018.

“We have documented thoroughly the deterioration of the department’s infrastructure,” Dunn said. “We have identified several facilities that have out used their service life.”

Dunn says that he has set three goals: increased staffing; provide better healthcare; and design criteria to build a safer system. To do this, Dunn requested $519 million from the 2020 state general fund (SGF) budget. That is a $42 million increase from 2019.

Dunn said that the additional funds are needed to provide: merit raises, a pay raise for security staff, plans to hire 500 new corrections officers, a new health care contract, hire twenty new health and mental health staff, and replace aging vehicles.

State Senator Jim McClendon (R-Springville) asked if the prisons were supposed to phone nearby residents when a prisoner escaped, but he lives near the ADOC prison in St. Clair County. He found out about a recent escape when officers were searching his horse trailer.

Dunn said that the system does phone residents and that members of the media get sent press releases whenever there is an escape. Dunn acknowledge that there was a system breakdown in the incident affecting Senator McClendon and his family.

State Representative Napoleon Bracy (D-Mobile) said that he remembered going to meetings on prison reform, “Are y’all doing your own prison reform without us?”

“We look at this as a very holistic problem,” Dunn said. “We absolutely need and ask for the help of the legislature to address the staffing levels at our facilities. On infrastructure the governor has asked me to present options. The governor has asked for options and we are taking steps to present her with that.”

Speaking in support of the proposed pay raise, State Senator Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) said that Department of Corrections officers, “Is the most dangerous law enforcement job out there. You can not raise the number of officers we need without raising the compensation.”

“We have had a 15 percent drop in our prison population to 163 percent of capacity,” Dunn said on efforts to reduce prison overcrowding. “We were at 200 percent. We are still vastly over populated and vastly under staffed.”

Dunn was asked about how the pay compared to other southeastern states.

“We are in the middle to top third,” Dunn replied. “That is not who we are competing with. I have very few employees who come from out of state to work in our prisons. It is difficult to recruit people when unemployment is at 3.6 percent.”

A legislator asked, “How many correction employees do you have now?”

“As of October 1 we had 2073 and 1000 are security officers.”

Dunn was asked about why that ADOC has not purchased the private prison in Perry County that is for sale when the legislature provided a $4.7 million earmark in the budget to do so.

“We have not been able to come to a mutually acceptable purchasing price,” Dunn replied. The facility has a capacity for seven hundred inmates.

State Representative Arnold Mooney (R-Indian Springs) asked if there were ongoing negotiations.

“I am not aware of any negotiations,” Dunn said.

When asked why? Dunn replied that his department is not equipped to do negotiations. The Department of Finance is handling it.

Sen. Ward said, “Ten years ago we inquired about buying that facility. Ten years ago the asking price was $55 million. Now it is down to $4.7 million so that is quite a bargain.”

Ward said that facility had been built to house federal ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detainees and the state had leased it at one time.

Rep. Mooney asked what the difference in price was?

“They were asking $15 million. We are authorized to only offer $4.7 million,” Dunn replied.

Mooney said that the $4,7 million was only intended to be the down payment, not the full price.

Dunn said that it is difficult to hire corrections officers in Perry County and that most of the prisoners have to be transported outside of the prison for medical care and there is no close by facility.

The state is currently being sued in federal court on allegations that the prisons are overcrowded, understaffed, and that the prisoner are not receiving adequate healthcare and mental healthcare.

Alabama has two budgets: education and the state general fund (SGF).  ADOC is the second most expensive item in the general fund, followed by Alabama Medicaid.  Medicaid cost the state $755 million this year; while ADOC cost the SGF $477 million.



SPLC: Ivey’s statements on absentee balloting “irresponsible”

Jessa Reid Bolling



The Southern Poverty Law Center condemned Governor Kay Ivey’s comments saying she would not advocate for “no-excuse absentee voting” during the COVID-19 outbreak, calling her comments “irresponsible.”

Currently, to receive an absentee ballot, the voter must submit a valid reason as to why they are unable or unwilling to vote at a polling place. “No-excuse” absentee voting would allow any registered voter to request an absentee without requiring that the voter state a reason for his/her desire to vote absentee.

During a conference call on Tuesday, Ivey discussed whether “no-excuse absentee voting” should be allowed amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

“At this time I would not advocate for a legislative change to allow that to happen,” Ivey said. “In a state-of-emergency the Secretary of State can adopt an emergency amend rule related to absentee voting. Anyone concerned with the virus can select a box and the box is called ‘I am ill or have an infirmity.’

“My thought is that if anyone can submit an absentee vote without a valid reason it raises the potential for voter fraud and, y’all, in the middle of a public health crisis we don’t need to open that up and add extra problems to our plate.” 

Ivey announced on March 18 that the primary runoff election, which was scheduled for March 31, will be held on July 14, 2020, over concerns surrounding the health and safety of Alabamians voting during the COVID-19 pandemic. The election will include the headline race for the GOP nomination for Senate.

Nancy Abudu, deputy legal director for the SPLC, released a statement on Wednesday, saying Ivey’s lack of consideration for “no-excuse absentee voting” will leave thousands of people disenfranchised if they cannot vote by mail.

“Through a worldwide public health crisis with no clear end in site, Governor Kay Ivey and Alabama’s leaders are digging in their heels to expand voter suppression in the state in a way that will impact not only communities of color and low-income individuals, but senior citizens and those taking care of sick family members as well among those directly impacted by COVID-19.  Governor Ivey’s use of the myth of voter fraud as an excuse to prevent Alabamians from having a safe way to vote by mail in future elections is irresponsible, shows a total lack of leadership on a critical issue, and will undermine our democratic process.”


“Meanwhile on the same day hours earlier, Georgia’s Secretary of State committed to sending every eligible, active voter an absentee ballot request form in the state’s rescheduled primary election. Expanding no-excuse absentee balloting, implementing early voting, and recruiting less at-risk poll workers are bare minimum policies Alabama should do to avoid electoral disasters in its primary run-off in July and in the general election in November.” 

Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill said on Monday that Alabamians can vote by absentee ballot amid the COVID-19 outbreak. 

“Amid coronavirus concerns, it is important to remember that Alabamians who are concerned about contracting or spreading an illness have the opportunity to avoid the polls on Election Day by casting an absentee ballot,” Merrill said in a press release Monday. “Alabamians can access the application online or by visiting or calling their local Absentee Election Manager’s office. 

“Any qualified voter who determines it is impossible or unreasonable to vote at their polling place shall be eligible to check the box on the absentee ballot application that is most applicable to that individual,” the Secretary of State’s office said. “State law allows the Secretary of State to issue absentee voting guidance during declared states of emergency, allowing Secretary Merrill to encourage voters to check the box which reads as follows (in the case none of the boxes are appropriate):

“I have a physical illness or infirmity which prevents my attendance at the polls. [ID REQUIRED]”

The deadline to register to vote in the July 14 election is Monday, June 29. The deadline to submit an absentee ballot application is Thursday, July 9. The deadline to return an absentee ballot to the Absentee Election Manager is the close of business Monday, July 13. And the last day to postmark an absentee ballot is Monday, July 13. 

Voters can request an absentee ballot application by calling the Secretary of State’s office at 334-242-7210.

More information on absentee ballot voting can be found on the Alabama Secretary of State website.


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Gov. Ivey says no plans for statewide “shelter-in-place” order

Eddie Burkhalter



Gov. Kay Ivey on Tuesday said there are no plans for a statewide shelter-in-place order due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“We have seen other states in the country doing that, as well as other countries, but however ya’ll. We are not California. We are not New York. We aren’t even Louisiana,” Ivey said on a conference call Monday. “My priority is to keep the Alabama economy going as much as possible, while we take extraordinary measures to keep everyone healthy and safe.” 

The Birmingham City Council on Monday approved a shelter-in-place order to help stem the tide of new COVID-19 cases in the city. The order bans all non-essential travel. Residents can still go to their essential job, leave home for things such as groceries, gas, medicine, health care or food, and for outdoor exercise. 

In a press conference Tuesday morning, Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin said 45 people who tested positive for the virus are hospitalized at UAB Medical Center in Birmingham, dozens more are under observation and at least 18 are on ventilators.

There were 242 confirmed COVID-19 cases across Alabama on Monday afternoon, although state health officials have said testing remains low in many parts of the state, so the actual spread of the virus is hard to know.  The number of known new cases in Alabama has been doubling about every three days. 

All Alabamians are under a statewide order that prohibits gatherings of 25 or more people, or any gathering in which people cannot keep 6 feet of distance apart from one another, but the ban doesn’t apply to workplaces. 

Ivey said that she knows small businesses are “feeling the pinch” and may feel hopeless when it’s hard to see the end in sight, “but I want to echo the president who today said,  quote, ‘We have to get back to work.’ We must do everything we can to keep businesses open. And if they are closed, get them back up as soon as possible.” 

President Donald Trump in a press briefing Monday suggested that in a matter of “weeks” and not “months” he planned to ease federal guidelines on social distancing, which are at the heart of the government’s 15-day “slow the spread” plan. 


“We can do both things,” Trump said several times during Monday’s press conference when asked if the government should focus on protecting U.S. lives and health or the economy. 

Trump’s statements caused concern from health care experts and a few members of his own party, who say easing the guidelines would cause the virus to spread more quickly. 

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R- South Carolina, in a tweet Monday said doing so cost lives. 

“Try running an economy with major hospitals overflowing, doctors and nurses forced to stop treating some because they can’t help all, and every moment of gut-wrenching medical chaos being played out in our living rooms, on TV, on social media, and shown all around the world,” Graham said in the tweet. 

Asked a similar question on Tuesday, whether the state government should be focused more on stopping the spread and public health, or the economy, Ivey echoed Trump, and said both. 

“The safety and well-being of Alabamians are paramount. However, I agree with President Trump, who thinks that a healthy and vital economy is just as essential to our quality of life,” Ivey said. “Manufacturers and business owners are producing the medicines, the protective health equipment and the food we need. It’s a balance and we’ve had to strike the appropriate balance as we move forward and as to appreciate the public being patient as you work through this.” 

Asked if the state was considering a stimulus package similar to what the federal government is working on, Ivey again discussed getting Alabama’s economy running without barriers. 

“In the past decade, we have made it a priority to not spend more than the state has collected, so the answer to this question is dependent on the economy and the economic forecasts, but there again, it’s about keeping Alabama businesses open and running,” Ivey said. “And if enact a shelter-in-place it will further impact our economy. These are things we’re all weighing out. We certainly do not have plans for shelter in place.” 

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp on Monday issued a stay-in-place order for “at-risk” groups, which include those living in long-term care facilities, those with some chronic illnesses, people who tested positive for the virus or were exposed to someone who has it. 

Atlanta’s mayor on Monday signed a 14-day stay-at-home order for all city residents. 

Ivey later in the Monday conference call cautioned Alabamians from traveling across state lines to visit family or friends, which could put them and others at risk of contracting the virus. 

“We want to keep our economy moving for sure, but that means we have to take extra precautions and doing so,” Ivey said. 

Alabama’s State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris was asked during Monday’s conference call whether he agrees with Trump’s statement Monday that the President thinks it will be a matter of weeks, not months before decisions are made to loosen restrictions on public life, Harris said he’s not yet sure. 

“In China, for example, they’ve just begun to see improvement in the past week after something that probably appeared in December, so there’s so much unknown right now that it’s just very challenging to say,” Harris said. “But it certainly could be weeks or months, and we’ll know a little bit more when we see our state develops in the next couple of weeks. I think.”

Asked if the state was doing enough to keep people safe when it comes to closures, Harris couldn’t say. 

 “I certainly am not sure if we’re doing enough or if we’re doing too much when it comes to this response, because it’s just very difficult to look into the future and know what we’re going to be seeing in a few weeks,” Harris said. 

“We’re certainly trying to make the best decision we can with the data we have available, and it’s possible we’ll end up looking like we didn’t do enough or it’s possible we’ll end up looking like we overreacted. And at this point, we’re doing the best we can with the information we have,” Harris said. 

What he and other state officials now have is an incomplete look at the spread of COVID-19 throughout the state, due to what Harris and other state health officials have said is a deficiency in testing in many areas statewide, largely due to the state’s struggle to source enough testing supplies and personal protective equipment for staff. 

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No, grocery stores are not closing next week, governor’s office says

Josh Moon



No, grocery stores in Alabama are not closing next week.

In a week of rumors surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, the latest social media hoax on Friday — that Gov. Kay Ivey would order closed all Alabama businesses, including grocery stores, next week — sent shoppers around the state cramming into supermarkets on Friday night.

Despite these rumors, the governor’s office confirmed to APR late Friday that there is zero truth to them. In fact, Ivey’s office is making plans to put more food and essentials into Alabama stores in the coming days and weeks.

“There is absolutely no truth to that,” said Ivey’s chief of staff, Jo Bonner.

Just today,  the Ivey administration increased the limits on the number of shipments made to the state.

They are encouraging all Alabamians to be cautious and only go out when necessary, but the administration is not imposing any type of order on essential services or grocery store access, despite the rumors.

There are no plans to lock down completely. And there never have been. No matter what restrictions are imposed, you will still be able to go to grocery stores, Alabama State Health Officer Scott Harris and EMA director Brian Hastings said earlier this week.

Even in the places with the most extreme restrictions — like Italy, California and New York — grocery stores and other essential businesses have never been closed.


Harris and Hastings urged Alabamians not to panic buy food.

“Remember to be prepared,” Harris said. “But there’s no advantage to being over-prepared. There is no shortage of food. There’s no shortage of things other than temporarily for paper products, as we all know about but we have no concerns or issues that people won’t be able to access food if they need it. I would say in any type of closure activity throughout the world grocery stores have been exempted from that. And it would be no different, you know, in this state as well, grocery stores have to remain open because people have to be able to access that food.”

Ivey’s office encouraged citizens to stay home and as isolated as possible.

Ivey has taken a number of steps to reduce crowds, including closing public beaches and forcing restaurant dining areas to close, but there is no plan to prevent citizens from obtaining necessities.


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Alabama governor announces new primary runoff election date

Charlie Walker



Gov. Kay Ivey on Wednesday said the primary runoff election, which will include the headline race for the GOP nomination for Senate, will be held on July 14, 2020, over concerns surrounding the health and safety of Alabamians voting during the COVID-19 pandemic. The primary election was scheduled for March 31.

“Exercising my extraordinary powers under the Emergency Management Act, I am setting Alabama’s Primary Runoff Election for July 14, 2020,” Ivey said. “The ability to hold free and fair elections is an inherent right as citizens of the United States and the great state of Alabama, but the safety and wellbeing of Alabama citizens is paramount.”

State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris is recommending that people should practice social distancing and refrain from public gatherings of more than 25 individuals.

Maintaining a 6-foot distance between one another is paramount.

This guidance alone would be making an election day a hotbed for spreading the virus, Ivey said.

“Persons who are 65 years or older, as well as those with previous heart and lung diseases, are more vulnerable to the Coronavirus,” Ivey said. “Knowing the average age of our faithful poll workers qualifies them to be most at-risk adds the necessity to extend the election runoff date.”

Ivey said delaying the election to July 14 is “not a decision I came to lightly, but one of careful consideration. I appreciate the guidance of Attorney General Steve Marshall and Secretary of State John H. Merrill for their collaboration to ensure the continuity of our state government.”

Attorney General Steve Marshall issued an emergency ruling Tuesday declaring Ivey had the authority to delay the runoff under the state of emergency declaration.


“Governor Ivey has the legal authority under the Alabama Emergency Management Act to declare a state of emergency as a result of the current pandemic,” Marshall said.  “Accordingly, she also has the lawful ability to postpone a primary runoff election to protect public health and safety during the state of emergency.”

Upon the governor’s issuance of the amended State of Emergency proclamation rescheduling the Primary Runoff Election to be held on July 14, 2020, the Secretary of State shall give notice and provide the amended Administrative Calendar, via certified mail and email, to all applicable election officials.

“I am grateful to Governor Ivey and General Marshall for their proactive leadership, sincere dedication, and spirit of teamwork displayed during these trying times,” said Secretary of State John H. Merrill. “It is critical that we provide a safe and secure environment for all 3,585,209 voters in the State of Alabama to participate in the electoral process.”

The Secretary of State is encouraging anyone who is concerned about contracting the virus or spreading the illness may vote by absentee. For information regarding voter registration, locating a polling place, or how to obtain an absentee ballot, please contact the Secretary of State’s website.

Jeff Sessions issued the following statement:

“I know that Governor Ivey has considered the health of Alabamians and that she has focused on their best interests in making her decision. The safety and health of Alabamians must take precedence.

“I am confident that Secretary of State John Merrill and Circuit Clerks across the state, in consultation with public health officials, will work hard to ensure a safe and orderly runoff election on July 14th. It is important that every voter’s voice has a fair chance to be heard, whether the vote is cast via an absentee ballot, or at the ballot box on election day.

“We intend to maintain our vigorous campaign up until the last day, even as we are careful to do so in a manner that puts the health and safety of the public first.

“It will be very difficult for Tommy Tuberville to hide from debates for four months. He will have to conquer his fears, and face me and the voters.”

Alabama Republican Party Chair Terry Lathan issued the following statement:

“This morning Governor Kay Ivey, Attorney General Steve Marshall and Secretary of State John Merrill announced that the Alabama primary runoff elections will be held on Tuesday, July 14, 2020. With the uncertainty surrounding the Coronavirus as it moves across our nation and confirmed cases in Alabama continue to increase, we support the administration’s prudent measures and decisions to protect Alabamians. While these are concerning and unknown times, we appreciate our leaders implementing a safe atmosphere for our probate and election officials, poll workers, campaigns, candidates and voters. The old saying ‘better safe than sorry’ is truly applicable in these unknown circumstances.

“We ask all to be in deep prayer for our president, state leaders, candidates, their families and our fellow citizens. We also lift up our health care workers, first responders and those who keep our nation and state safe. This opportunity of working together will showcase our great state’s resilience with a focus on our fellow Alabamians’ safety and health.

“Americans are tenacious and tough people who have risen to many trying times and we have no doubt that we will all rise together again in this chapter of our nation’s and state’s history.” 


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