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APR confirms at least two partners behind mystery company bidding prison contract

Eddie Burkhalter

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Five companies have expressed an interest in building new prisons in Alabama, some  appear to have never built a prison, while another may have as of yet unnamed partners. 

The five companies are: The GEO Group, Inc., Corvias, LLC, Corrections Consultants, LLC, CoreCivic, Inc. and Alabama Prison Transformation Partners. 

Alabama Prison Transformation Partners is a public mystery with no records of its existence beyond the governor’s announcement.  

APR has confirmed that B.L. Harbert International and Star America Infrastructures are two of the entities behind the venture. 

Questions to Gov. Ivey’s office on Monday from APR about Alabama Prison Transformation Partners were directed to the state Department of Corrections. 

Alabama Department of Corrections public information manager Bob Horton in an email to APR wrote that Alabama Prison Transformation Partners is a Joint Venture that submitted a SOQ. Asked which businesses made up that joint venture Horton had not answered as of Monday evening. 

The company’s name is very similar to former Gov. Robert Bentley’s and Sen. Cam Ward’s, R-Alabaster, Alabama Prison Transformation Initiative, which was a failed larger $800 million plan to close 14 of the state’s 16 maximum custody prisons and build four new so called mega-prisons. 

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Lawmakers voted down the plan two years in a row, and despite trimming it down to an estimated $550 million, the House in 2017 failed to bring it to Ivey’s desk for approval. 

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Sen. Ward told APR on Monday that while he’s heard of several companies on the list, but the Alabama Prison Transformation Partners isn’t one. 

I just never heard of that one,” Ward said. 

Speaking by phone to APR,  Blake Rhodes, who handles public relations for the Birmingham-based construction company B.L. Harbert International, identified a man who was speaking by phone with a reporter as a vice president at the company. 

The man, who wouldn’t identify himself further, told APR that B.L. Harbert is one of the companies behind Alabama Prison Transformation Partners, and that New York-based Star America Infrastructures was the developer on the prison project.

A Star America company spokesman confirmed to APR by phone Monday that Star America Infrastructure is a partner in Alabama Prison Transformation Partners, but he declined to discuss the matter further.

Star America Infrastructures is a fund management company  that has partnered in at least 10 projects across the U.S., including student housing for San Jose State University, a data center in Michigan, a courthouse in Maryland, a highway bypass in Ohio, according to the company’s website.

Neither Star America Infrastructures nor  B.L. Harbert make mention of prison construction projects on company websites, and there are no news articles discussing as much.

It was unclear  how many other businesses or individuals may be partnering in Alabama Prison Transformation Partners.

That news comes as Ivey and other state lawmakers work to address the problem of violence and overcrowding in the state’s prisons, which were detailed in a report in April by the U.S. Department of Justice. 

Ivey’s plan calls for constructing three new men’s prisons to replace aging prisons, but details about which prisons are to be closed, or where the new prisons might be built, haven’t been disclosed. The Alabama Department of Corrections has said the new prisons could cost an estimated $900 million. 

Gov. Kay Ivey’s office said Monday that the Alabama Building Commission and the Alabama Department of Finance will evaluate each of the five companies and determine which will be allowed to later submit proposals to build the new prisons. 

“The first steps in my plan to revitalize Alabama’s prisons are to generate interest from qualified developer teams, and we have been successful,” Governor Ivey said. “We must continue working together to ensure that this plan is propelled forward with consistent momentum as there is a significant need for new infrastructure.”

“The Governor’s Office, my staff and project team are very pleased with the SOQ response and look forward to continuing the procurement process, as that will bring us one step closer to substantive change and transformation for prisons in Alabama,” ADOC Commissioner Jeff Dunn said in the press release. 

The Geo Group, headquartered in Florida, is one of the country’s two largest private prison companies and either manages or owns 133 facilities across the U.S. and in Australia, South Africa and the United Kingdom. The company operates prisons, immigrant detention facilities and mental health and residential treatment facilities. 

Geo Group has been sued numerous times connected to prison riots and problems at its immigrant detention centers, some of which have led to the deaths of immigrants detained there. 

In a report released in June the Department of Homeland Security found serious safety problems and violations of immigrants rights at Geo Group-operated immigrant detentions centers in California, Colorado and Louisiana. 

Corrections Consultants LLC is owned by Nashville businessman Doctor Robert Crants Jr., who was one of the co-founders of Corrections Corporation of America, which later changed names to CoreCivic. 

Crants in May agreed to repay Louisiana-based LCS Corrections Services $2 million as part of a settlement agreement in which the company alleged in a lawsuit that Crants had taken the money through a bond refinancing deal without the company’s knowledge or approval. Crants had served as a board member at LCS Corrections Services.

Rhode Island-based Corvias, LLC provides housing for students and U.S. military service members, but there’s also no indication on the company’s website or in other news accounts that the company has built prisons. 

John Picerne, founder of Corvias, testified before the U.S. Congress in January for what Picerne said was unacceptable living standards in some of his company’s military housing. 

Reuters has reported that numerous military housing units operated by Corvais in multiple states had busted pipes, collapsed ceilings, mold and exposed lead paint. 

Nashville-based CoreCivic manages more than 65 states and federal prisons and detention centers throughout the U.S. 

The company, likely the largest private prison operator in the country, changed its name from Corrections Corporation of America to CoreCivic in 2016 to rebrand the giant company after a series of lawsuits over prisoner abuse, prison riots and escapes. Some of those problems have been attributed to cost-cutting measures at the company. 

CoreCivic, along with Geo Group, runs the majority of the Immigrtion and Customs Enforcement’s immigrant detention centers in the U.S. 

Unsafe conditions at many of those immigrant detention centers has been well documented in recent months. 

 

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