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Ivey proposes smart on crime solutions to state prison problems

Bill Britt

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Alabama’s aging and dangerous prisons have been a topic of legislative discussion for 30 years with little accomplishment.

If Gov. Kay Ivey succeeds in building three new men’s facilities, it will amount to a generational change in how the state addresses inmate detention.

By focusing primarily on the initiative’s price tag, many critics and temperate supports miss the bigger picture of overhauling a system based in a 19th century understanding of criminal justice.

The “lock them up and throw away the key” mentality of the past has run headlong into data-driven practices that reduce recidivism and improve public safety.

Prisons are meant to be punitive, but by only addressing punishment and not rehabilitation, the justice system fails to adequately acknowledge that it can’t support mass incarceration without creating an even larger criminal class.

For nearly 200 years, Alabama has known how to be tough on crime. With efforts begun by the Legislature some eight years ago, it is learning to be smart on crime.

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It might surprise some to realize the breadth of criminal justice reforms shouldered by Republican lawmakers. Too often Conservative rhetoric has undermined reform efforts because no Republican wants to be seen as soft on crime.

Across the nation, data-driven sentencing reforms embraced across party lines are leading to more efficient and humane prison conditions. Expanding alternatives to incarceration and adopting policies that reduce recidivism is not only decreasing the prison population, but also keeping the most dangerous offenders behind bars. Along with occupational and life-skills training, prisons are becoming more rehabilitative, as well.

According to the DOC, assessment deferred maintenance cost on existing prisons total around $450 million annually. A figure that that nearly doubles every five years and currently stands at around $700 million.

Ivey’s administration says to maintain the current state facilities properly would cost twice as much as building new ones.

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“The cost of maintaining dilapidated prison facilities is a bottomless pit, placing a large and never-ending financial burden on taxpayers,” according to the administration’s findings.

DOC Commissioner Jeff Dunn set the cost for three new facilities at around $900 million, a hefty price for a state that struggles to maintain even essential government services.

But Ivey and Dunn agree that when the assessment process is completed later this year that savings will pay for new facilities without costing taxpayers additional money. They estimate that the new facilities could actually save the state $79.6 million annually.

Taxpayers and politicos are reluctant to spend money on corrections, but the alternative is proving to be more costly in the long run according to statistics supplied by the Ivey administration.

What is certain is Ivey isn’t content to pay lip service to justice reforms but plans to address the situation before year’s end.

Bill Britt is editor-in-chief at the Alabama Political Reporter and host of The Voice of Alabama Politics. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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Governor

Governor meets with VIP

Brandon Moseley

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Gov. Kay Ivey and fourth grade student Cate McGriff. Photo Credit: Governor's office.

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey invited a special guest to meet with her in the Governor’s office on Friday.

Fourth grade student Cate McGriff met with Governor Ivey Friday afternoon. The discussion was described as wide-ranging and productive. The governor and McGriff covered everything from school to their love of dogs.

Gov. Ivey asked Miss. McGriff what her favorite subject in school is.

McGriff replied that it was math. She also told the governor that she wanted to attend Auburn University just like Gov. Ivey did.

Ivey asked Cate what she wanted to be when she grows up, after she attends Auburn.

McGriff said that she wanted to be an engineer.

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Ivey advised her to keep working hard on her math.

Ivey shared that when she was a young intern for Governor Lurleen Wallace, the only other woman to serve as Governor in Alabama history, she had the opportunity to sit behind the governor’s desk. Ivey then asked Cate if she wanted to sit behind the desk, and they recreated the governor’s own photo behind Governor Wallace’s desk.

Cate and Governor Ivey both were wearing their red power suits and Auburn masks.

McGriff was joined by her parents and two siblings, Claire and Sam.

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The McGriff family frequently tune in to the governor’s regular COVID press conferences. Cate also was given the chance to stand behind the lectern in the Old House Chamber.

Governors frequently meet with very important people including: Presidents, CEOs, congressmen, Senators, scientists, University presidents, state legislators, county commissioners, economic developers, and fourth graders.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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.

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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.  

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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