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Analysis | Ivey to build prisons come hell or legislative high water

Bill Britt

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Gov. Kay Ivey is going to build three new high-level security prisons to house the state’s most violent offenders and those inmates who are plagued by infirmities and mental illness.

Ivey will build these three new correctional facilities come hell or legislative high water because it is right, not because it’s popular.

It’s about time a governor of our state took bold action on anything other than self-dealing or buffoonery.

During a press conference on Tuesday to discuss her prison plan, Ivey said, “Prisons were a very difficult challenge to address, but this is an Alabama problem, and it must have an Alabama solution.” Ivey echoed a major theme of her inaugural address.

When asked if she was abandoning the idea of building the three facilities through a build-lease agreement, Ivey gave a slight grin and said, “Everything is on the table.”

Make no mistake, if the Legislature doesn’t appropriate the funds to build three new correctional facilities, Ivey will do it with her executive power.

“The Legislature appropriates the executive executes. I’m going to execute,” Ivey said during the presser.

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Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn, who sat with Ivey, explained why the state needs new prisons.

“The overcrowding, the understaffing, the violence, the dilapidated facilities, the ability to provide rehabilitation — all of those things wrapped up together (are) why we’re going to do this project,” he said.

The state Legislature has debated the abysmal prison system in Alabama for 30 years.

The state finally has a governor who is less talk and more action.

APR in the past has been critical of spending nearly a billion dollars to build new prisons. Our opposition was not to developing new prisons, but the haphazard way the state wanted to execute the plan.

Several of us at APR have toured state prisons; we asked to see them because we wanted to see them first hand. What we saw on our visits clearly violated the constitutional guarantee against cruel and unusual punishment. Anyone who believes Alabama’s state prisons are a luxury resort has never seen the inside of even the best facility.

Alabama prisons are hell on earth. They are dangerous and dilapidated. They are cold in the winter and boiling hot in the summer. And finally, they are unsafe for inmates and correctional officers alike.

According to Mike Lanier, president of Birmingham HPM, which is heading the project over the next several months, an RFP will be sent to firms that can build the facilities. Lanier expects to have those proposals in hand sometime in the fall.

Dunn estimates the project will cost around $900 million.

That is a lot of money for a state that struggles just to maintain basic services.

Dunn believes the savings in personnel overtime, repair and maintenance on current facilities will more than offset the cost of building the new prisons.

No one wants to build prisons. For the most part, citizens don’t want to even think about such things. That is why government exists — to do the things that people can’t do and quite frankly don’t want to do.

“Alabama truly does have a major problem with our overcrowding in our prisons,” Ivey said. “And it’s a challenge that we Alabamians must solve, not the federal courts.”

Alabama must also solve the problem because we teeter on the brink of a public-safety crisis.

And if those aren’t reasons enough, tour a state prison and then ask yourself if we do not have a moral imperative to treat even convicts humanely?

Ivey is doing what her predecessors chose to ignore, not because it’s popular, but because it’s right.

 

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