The secrecy behind Alabama’s plan to build three new prisons using private prison companies mirrors a project in Kansas that left some lawmakers there feeling that the state got “hoodwinked.”
The Kansas governor has since said her state was “hoodwinked” by one of the same private prison companies now vying for a piece of Alabama taxpayer’s $900 million to build one or more of the state’s three planned prisons. Promised savings never materialized, and Kansas now plans to send some inmates to a private-prison-operated facility out-of-state because of continued overcrowding.
Gov. Kay Ivey in August announced the five companies that expressed interest in building new prisons through build-lease contracts are: The Geo Group, Inc., Corvias, LLC, Corrections Consultants, LLC, CoreCivic, Inc. and Alabama Prison Transformation Partners.
APR was able to confirm that B.L. Harbert International and Star America Infrastructures are two of the entities behind Alabama Prison Transformation Partners, but additional partners haven’t been identified, and the state isn’t saying.
Corrections Consultants is owned by the Tennessee businessman Doctor Robert Crants Jr., APR also recently confirmed.
The Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) had promised the interested companies that the state would keep information about the businesses private until contracts are finalized, the ADOC told several news outlets.
“…The Request for Qualifications assures competing developers that “any information received in response to the solicitation/request will not be publicly available until final contract(s) has received all approvals,” the ADOC said in statements last week.
Most everyone agrees that Alabama has to address the state’s aging, overcrowded and dangerous prisons, but just how that’s done, and at what cost, remains debated.
Alabama is under a judge’s order to roughly double the number of correctional officers by 2022, and the U.S. Department of Justice in April threatened Alabama with a federal lawsuit because of what the department found to be the unconstitutional treatment of prisoners over violence and sexual abuse in the overcrowded, understaffed prisons.
The state Legislature in 2015, passed criminal justice reforms which reduced prisons from 200 percent of capacity to about 160 percent, but prisons remain dangerously overpopulated and understaffed. A team of law enforcement agencies on Monday confiscated 621 makeshift weapons at the G.K. Fountain Correctional Facility in Escambia County.
In 2018, the state Legislature increased ADOC’s funding by $86 million for additional medical and mental health services and correctional officers, and in 2019, increased the budget again by $40 million to hire 500 more correctional officers and boost pay by 20 percent to help retain staff, but other attempted fixes have failed.
Lawmakers tried three times in recent years to pass legislation to replace and consolidate aging prisons in new facilities though bond issuances, but closing job-providing prisons in one’s own district, and taking on additional debt to do so, wasn’t politically popular.
“Three times it was introduced and three times it failed,” state Sen. Cam Ward told APR on Monday. Ward is also chairman of the prison oversight committee. “Lawmakers wanted prisons in their district. Don’t close mine, close his.”
Estimates in bills pushed in the Legislature in 2016, and 2017, put the cost of the state itself to build four new prisons – not three – at around $800. The cost over the 30-year term of the bond issuance would have been $1.5 billion.
The ADOC has estimated that it would cost the state more than $440 million to repair all 17 major detention facilities.
After those failures, Gov. Kay Ivey presented a solution: Remove the need for legislation by contracting directly with private companies to build the prisons, then lease them back over a period of decades. Under Ivey’s proposal, the private prison companies would be responsible for maintenance of the prisons and the state would operate them.
“The politics of it are still dicey,” Ward said. “You still have some legislators who really want us to do it. I think at the end of the day you’re going to see a sit-down where the legislators who want to see the state do it are going to put their numbers on the table and the administration is going to put their numbers on the table, and whichever one is cheaper is the way it’s going to go.”
Ward said he understands the concern many have about the secrecy behind the ADOC’s request for qualification process, and said he still doesn’t know all of the entities behind Alabama Prison Transformation Partners.
“They’re naturally suspicious, because that’s a lot of money. You’re talking about close to a billion dollars. There’s going to be concerns there and it’s valid,” Ward said. “I think for their part more transparency would be helpful to them.”
Kansas leads the way
Kansas officials used the same process that Ivey’s administration is moving forward with when that state entered into a build-lease contract with CoreCivic in 2018, to replace the state’s Lansing Correctional Facility.
Shar Habibi, research director at the California-based think tank In the Public Interest, which focuses on privatization and the economy, pointed to an audit that determined it would have been less costly for Kansas to build the new prison itself with a bond issuance of $155 million.
The state’s finance council instead chose to contract with CoreCivic at a cost of $159.5 million, or $362 million over 20 years including maintenance and insurance payments, according to Mother Jones.
“I think the theory is that you get a project that’s best for the state, not necessarily one that’s low-bid,” Mike Gaito, director of capital improvements at KDOC, told the Topika-Capital Journal.
The Kansas Department of Corrections estimated that building the new prison would save approximately $23 million over the 20-year lease, largely by cutting staffing in half by using newly designed cell blocks that don’t require as many officers to oversee inmates.
That projected savings didn’t come to be, however, when KDOC found the land unsuitable to the new design, and the savings was reduced from $23 million to just $1.3 million over 20 years, according to the state’s projected savings.
CoreCivic had hired to aides to former Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, according to the Kansas City Star, but Brownback at the time said his office wasn’t involved in selecting CoreCivic. The governor had to approve the deal, however, the newspaper noted.
Kansas Sen. Carolyn McGinn expressed concern at the time that the state’s process lacked transparency.
“The problem here — we’re in this decision mode now — is because so much of this process was done behind closed doors,” McGinn told The Kansas City Star. “It wasn’t an open process.”
Just as in Alabama, the Kansas Department of Corrections did initially name the companies that expressed interest in the project, but declined to give out any more information once bids were placed, including the names of the companies that bid or the bid amounts, according to The Kansas City Star.
The Kansas City Star noted that the KDOC had previously named CoreCivic, Geo Group and Lansing Corrections Partners has having expressed interest, but the paper couldn’t identify who was behind the Tennessee-based Lansing Corrections Partners. No such business is registered in Tennessee or Kansas. APR was also unable to identify the people behind Lansing Correctional Partners.
Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly told the Associated Press in February that the state was “hoodwinked” by CoreCivic into believing the new design would save the state millions.
“We were just, you know, hoodwinked, I think,” Kelly told the AP. She had been critical of the private prison proposal as a state senator before her governorship. “I was not.”
Both CoreCivic and Geo Group have in recent years worked to grow real estate holdings to take advantage of each companies’ change in 2013, from traditional corporations to Real Estate Investment Trusts (REIT), which allows them to save many millions through federal tax exemptions.
Building Alabama’s prisons and managing them as landlords would help the two companies meet an obligation of their REIT’s that they hold a certain amount of real estate in their portfolios, Habibi said, and it lets them move into states that may have been leery of allowing private prison companies to operate facilities.
Financing Alabama’s prison builds may have gotten a little trickier for the two largest companies recently, Habibi said, which could mean it’ll cost the companies, and the state, more in the long run.
“In the past few months all of the major banks that have provided financing to CoreCivic and Geo Group…have all said no new financing,” Habibi said.
JP Morgan Chase & Company had already financed CoreCivic’s Kansas project before the banks made that announcement in March following public outcry over the private prison and detention center companies’ connection to the Trump administration’s undocumented immigrant family separation policy.
President Trump in June signed an executive order ostensibly ending the policy, but since then at least 700 families have been separated, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Without access to those banks, CoreCivic and Geo Group stand to lose 72 percent, or $1.9 billion, of the companys’ current available financing, according to a joint report in July by In the Public Interest and several other groups.
Habibi also warned that locking the state into long-term leases with a private prison companies “significantly hampers” Alabama’s ability to change its criminal justice system.
“If the state is serious about criminal justice reform, if populations do decline, you can’t just say we only need three prisons now. It doesn’t matter. You’re on the hook for the money,” Habibi said.
Donald Cohen, executive director of In the Public Interest, told APR that he also worries there would be little incentive for the state to continue with criminal justice reforms and reduce prison populations if the state is locked into long-term leases.
“Theoretically, you could do anything you want, but why would you? You have no incentive to do that,” Cohen said. “There’s only an incentive to keep the beds filled.”
Habibi also pointed to problems CoreCivic has had in the past maintaining facilities for local governments. A report released by In the Public Interest in January noted that CoreCivic, doing business under the company’s previous name, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), “failed to repair rusted doors, replace damaged windows, seal cracks in walls and floors, fix damaged ceiling tiles, and patch leaks in the roof” at Hernando County’s jail north of Tampa, Florida.
After Hernando County took back over control of the jail in 2010, county officials estimated that CCA owed $1 million for needed repairs, which the company agreed to pay, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
Beyond maintenance issues that might arise, Habibi said there’s a real concern that states contracting with these companies to build and maintain prisons can later amend contracts to let private prison companies operate them as well. Once in the door, it’s much easier for private prisons to negotiate other terms, she explained.
“And there are a lot of examples of human rights abuses that CoreCivic and Geo Group have engaged in” Habibi said.
Both companies have faced numerous lawsuits over alleged civil rights abuses, neglect and violence at their facilities.
Kansas officials announced in August that around 600 state prisoners would be transferred to a CoreCivic-operated prison in Arizona at a cost of around $16.3 million a year because of prison overcrowding, according to The Wichita Eagle.
“Sending Kansas inmates to another state is an option we wish we could avoid,” Acting Kansas Department of Corrections secretary Jeff Zmuda said in a press release.
Whatever the solution, Alabama officials are under pressure to fix the state’s troubled prison system, and the threat of a lawsuit by the U.S. Department of Justice still looms.
Sen. Ward sees Alabama’s current plan to use the build-lease option as part of a much needed remedy, and one that needs to come quickly.
“There’s no dispute that we’ve got to have new facilities to replace the old ones,” Ward said. “The issue is getting it done in a timely manner and based on specifications.”
Ward said that during the state’s request for proposal process later on, the unknown names connected to some of these companies will come to light, which he said is critical to “transparency and making people feel more comfortable with it.”
“But yes. I think the way the governor is doing it right now is a good way,” Ward said.
Governor announces $219,000 in grants for ALEA
A $168,975 grant will be used toward a federally mandated sexual offender registration and residency program, according to Gov. Kay Ivey’s office.
Gov. Kay Ivey on Thursday announced $219,764 in grants to the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) to bolster the state’s oversight of those convicted of sex offenses.
A $168,975 grant will be used toward a federally mandated sexual offender registration and residency program, according to Ivey’s office. Sexual offenders must register and report where they live after being convicted, and the funds will aid law enforcement officers in verifying those placed on the registry are meeting those requirements.
An additional $50,789 grant is to be used to transition to a more comprehensive crime reporting system by a federally mandated 2021 deadline, according to Ivey’s office.
The new system will provide more detail about crimes, including the type of weapons used and characteristics about the location of crime, such as if it occurred in a rural or urban area.
“Protecting communities from sexual predators and reporting accurate records of crime statistics are high priorities for all law enforcement in Alabama,” Ivey said in a statement. “I commend ALEA for its commitment to making sure it stays in compliance with federal laws and working to close cases on known offenders.”
The U.S. Department of Justice grants will be administered by the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA).
“ADECA joins Gov. Ivey in supporting ALEA’s efforts to protect our communities from sexual predators and to make it easier for law enforcement agencies to share vital information with each other,” the director of ADECA, Kenneth Boswell, said in a statement.
Opinion | A gruesome murder should point Montgomery in a new direction
The city didn’t arrive overnight at a place where 16-year-old girls are drinking smoothies after a gruesome murder, and the road out of it won’t be a short one either.
The facts of 17-year-old Luna Pantaleon’s death are hard to stomach. The Montgomery teen was beaten with a metal pole and left to drown in a ditch. Her face was so badly beaten, with so many facial fractures, that the exact cause of her death couldn’t immediately be identified.
Her alleged killers are three 16-year-old girls. They reportedly went to McDonald’s after the murder and had smoothies.
Those details were provided during a court hearing on Wednesday as reported by the Montgomery Advertiser. They are enough to cause you to pause while reading to take a deep breath. But these details are not the only ones that should get attention.
The testimony of a Montgomery police detective who investigated the crime, and who interviewed the three girls who have essentially admitted to the crime, provided other disturbing details that paint a picture of the lives of Montgomery’s underprivileged youth — lives filled with violence and firearms, with late-night fights and “hits” put out on houses by 10th graders.
This reality for many young people in Montgomery isn’t exactly a hidden secret.
I can’t tell you the number of homeless teenagers I spoke with or tried to help while in Montgomery. I can’t tell you the number of conversations I had with middle schoolers who were in gangs, and who spoke openly about carrying handguns and other semi-automatic weapons.
Don’t get me wrong. Montgomery is not the wild west, and every poor, Black person in the city isn’t part of a gang or spending their nights shooting at each other.
But there is a level of violence and bad behavior that is growing and taking root in many communities. And it is happening because too many young people in those communities see no other viable alternatives.
A never ending cycle of poverty and despair — a cycle that has lasted, in some cases, for multiple generations — has left them turning to other means of getting by, of finding love and acceptance, of finding guidance no matter how misguided that guidance might be.
And every bit of it can be traced back to one problem: education. Or, in Montgomery’s case, the lack of it.
Segregation was common in all of Alabama in the 1950s and ’60s, but few cities in America clung to it as tightly as Montgomery did. When the Brown v. Board decision came down, private schools in Montgomery started to pop up — at one point a record number of them. And as the population grew, so too did the cities and the school systems surrounding Montgomery.
In 2020, Montgomery’s private schools are more than 90 percent white. Montgomery’s public schools are more than 95 percent Black. Those numbers have not changed much over the years.
But even more problematic is that Montgomery’s public schools are also serving a disproportionate amount of low-income students. That most of the poor people in Montgomery happen to be Black is a simple byproduct of the racism that saw Black citizens denied work, denied decent business loans, denied home loans for certain areas and denied acceptance into most state universities.
And having a high number of low-income students means fewer resources, fewer involved parents and more students who struggle through no fault of their own, because working parents weren’t home to help with homework, or they don’t have internet service. It goes on and on and on.
Now, repeat those problems for a few generations. And, well, you get the idea.
Exacerbating the problem for Montgomery, though, is a screwed up funding structure that has left its schools funded at the state’s lowest allowable levels. There will be an opportunity for Montgomery residents to fix that during Tuesday’s election by voting to increase property tax rates in the county.
It is money that is desperately needed. But that money alone will not solve the issues. Because we’re way too far down the line at this point for a few dollars to fix what’s broken in Montgomery.
It’s going to take the entire community putting aside their differences and their finger-pointing and their hate and actually working towards solving the problems, instead of just constantly pointing them out. It’s going to require a bunch of people to stop believing that skin color somehow makes a child less worthy of a quality education or more likely to be a criminal.
Mayor Steven Reed and several others have done a remarkable job to this point bringing together groups of people who have historically opposed any tax increases for the schools. He’s going to have to build on that goodwill going forward.
Because while more money will certainly make a difference, it won’t put a parent in place. It won’t assure kids are getting quality medical care and mental health care. It won’t put food on the table at night or turn the broadband on.
There will need to be more education options opened up for adults. There will need to be more comprehensive options available in some communities. This will take time and money, and it won’t be easy.
But here’s the one thing I know: the overwhelming majority of people in this world, and in Montgomery, want to succeed. They want to take care of themselves and their children. They want their kids to receive a decent education. They want a good job and to pay their bills and sleep easy at night.
If you show them a pathway to such a life, they will take it.
The city didn’t arrive overnight at a place where 16-year-old girls are drinking smoothies after a gruesome murder, and the road out of it won’t be a short one either. But passing this tax increase, and the community-wide dedication to this cause that it represents, is a damn fine start.
Alabama Constable Association: Amendment 2 could defund constables statewide
Amendment 2, if approved, would delete language protecting how constables are funded statewide.
If Amendment 2 on the Nov. 3 ballot is approved by Alabama voters, it could pave the way for an end to an office in Alabama with a history in the U.S. that dates back to the 17th century, according to the Alabama Constable Association.
Chauncey Wood III, president of the Alabama Constables Association, reached by phone Monday, referred a reporter to a pending press release from the association. Jonathan Barbee, constable for Jefferson County and the association’s spokesman, said in the statement Monday that the association is concerned with several aspects of Amendment 2.
If approved, the amendment would process numerous changes to the state’s judicial system, including a change that would allow Alabama Supreme Court, rather than the chief justice, to appoint the administrative director of courts.
It would also increase the Judicial Inquiry Commission from nine members to 11 and would allow the governor, rather than the lieutenant governor, to appoint a member of the Court of the Judiciary. The amendment would also prevent automatic disqualification from holding public offices for a judge solely because a complaint was filed with the Judiciary Inquiry Commission. Additionally, it would provide that a judge can be removed from office only by the Court of the Judiciary.
Amendment 2 would also “delete certain language relating to the position of constable holding more than one state office,” and Barbee, in his statement, explained that the amendment could defund Constables statewide if counties chose to do so.
“Constables are not taxpayer-funded, they are largely voluntary Peace Officers,” Barbee said. “The fees they collect from their duties as Officers of the Courts allow them to support the expenses of the office such as vehicles, uniforms, and equipment. Amendment 2 also deletes the language protecting how Constables are paid by private court fees, leaving it in question for the appointed Administrator to decide.”
In Alabama, constables are elected peace officers and act in many of the same ways as do sheriff’s deputies. They’re able to make arrests, serve court papers and provide security for parades, funerals and the like.
Amendment 2 was sponsored by Alabama Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur. Orr, in a message to APR on Monday, said that the portion of the amendment dealing with constables was drafted by an Alabama Law Institute committee, headed at the time by the institute’s deputy director at the time, Clay Hornsby. Orr referred questions about the matter to Hornsby.
David Kimberley, acting deputy director of the Alabama Legislative Services Agency’s Law Institute, told APR that he took over as acting deputy director since Hornsby’s departure on Aug. 1.
If the amendment is approved by voters, Kimberley said that a county that wants to keep their constable can do so, but that the amendment is an acknowledgement that there are few constables left in the state and it’s approaching becoming “an archaic position or office.”
“It was noted that only 24 out of the 67 counties currently have constables. Most of all the services of constables are duplicated sheriff’s deputies,” Kimberley said. “And it was essentially just an acknowledgement of what seemed to be a gradual phase out of this office in the state of Alabama.”
Read Barbee’s full statement below:
The Alabama Constables Association has joined other law enforcement and conservative groups in urging voters to vote “NO” on Amendment 2 in the general election on November 3rd.
Constable Jonathan Barbee, the Association’s Public Information Officer, said in a statement:
“We’re very concerned about several of the parts of Amendment 2, starting with the overall size and complexity of the Amendment. Typically, proposed constitutional amendments deal with only one or at most a few issues. Amendment 2 proposes SIX different changes to the State Judicial System, some of which drastically change the way we do things in Alabama.
“Amendment 2 could harm small communities by allowing county district courts to discontinue having municipal courts in cities with populations of less than 1,000. Municipal courts are typically held at night, making it easier for working people to attend. Without these small municipal courts, residents would have to spend most of a day at the county seat, losing a day of work or being forced to burn a vacation day for something that now is usually settled in an evening. It also indirectly attacks and defunds the Police departments of these towns, because their city courts are a significant source of revenue to help keep Officers on patrol. This part of Amendment 2 strikes at our small communities, drawing power to the larger county seats.
“Amendment 2 also removes the ability of the Legislature to impeach Judges, making the unelected, unaccountable to the people, Court of the Judiciary as the only body that can remove a Judge from the bench. Every citizen in Alabama should be concerned about this, because it effectively takes away their ability, acting through their elected representatives in the Legislature, to remove a bad Judge from their position.
“Amendment 2 allows Judges to continue working when complaints are filed against them with the Judicial Inquiry Commission. We understand that automatically removing a Judge just because a complaint has been filed can lead to problems and abuses of the system, but these can be settled in a timely manner by the JIC. The alternative, which Amendment 2 will create, would allow Judges who need to be removed to continue hearing cases, and give them a legal basis for fighting their removal. We believe this has the potential for much more serious problems to arise within our courts.
“Amendment 2 could also defund Constables by removing our ability to serve as Constables while also working in another position with the State or County. Constables are not taxpayer-funded, they are largely voluntary Peace Officers. The fees they collect from their duties as Officers of the Courts allow them to support the expenses of the office such as vehicles, uniforms, and equipment. Amendment 2 also deletes the language protecting how Constables are paid by private court fees, leaving it in question for the appointed Administrator to decide. This could effectively defund the Office of Constable statewide, which removes the protection and services Constables provide in their communities at no cost to the taxpayers of Alabama. Over the last year, at least two Constables were responsible for saving several lives during medical emergencies, Constables in Jefferson County have been helping with traffic control and schools, and one Constable assisted with a large drug interdiction arrest. We feel this is an unnecessary and unwarranted attack on the oldest elected law enforcement position in the nation.
“There are other problems with this Amendment. Amendment 2 mandates that the entire Alabama Supreme Court, instead of the Chief Justice, appoint the Administrative Director of Courts. It would be a change from having a single elected, accountable official being responsible for this appointment to having it done by committee. Once the Administrator is appointed they could, in fact, serve a lifetime appointment. Amendment #2 would also remove the ability of Alabama’s elected Lieutenant Governor to appoint one member of the Court of the Judiciary, giving that ability and more control to the Governor, who already appoints two members.
“Many of these points are not easy to find, because the forces behind this Amendment have purposefully omitted them from the official documentation provided to the Alabama Secretary of State’s office. If for no other reason than this deliberate obfuscation of the true contents of this Amendment, it should be voted down. The people of Alabama deserve better than this attempt by special interests to radically change how our state’s Judicial system works, mostly as a smokescreen to hide how they will use it to protect bad Judges, inconvenience small-town residents, and make citizens across the state less safe.
“We urge the voters of Alabama to vote ‘NO’ on Amendment 2.”
Alabama parole officers seize firearms, ammunition and drugs in Enterprise
The seized evidence will be presented to a grand jury for further action and to authorities for potential federal charges.
Officers of the Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles on Wednesday seized two semiautomatic weapons, ammunition and drugs from a convicted armed robber in an operation in Enterprise. One of the seized weapons was stolen.
Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles director Charlie Graddick praised officers Jared McPhaul and Troy Staley for their work.
“The first job every day of our officers is to protect public safety,” Graddick said. “These officers stopped a parolee with a violent history from potentially using illegal weapons to harm someone. We are all grateful for their hard work and dedication.”
The officers arrested parolee Jay Gatewood on a parole violation. Gatewood is out on parole after serving prison time for first-degree robbery and child abuse. Evidence of a possible parole violation was found after a search of Gatewood’s car.
The seized evidence will be presented to a grand jury for further action and to authorities for potential federal charges.
Parolees are required to report to parole officers periodically. Gatewood had failed to report for the month of October so McPhaul directed him to come to the Enterprise office to report. The officers had received a tip that Gatewood might be engaging in illegal activities.
When Gatewood arrived, the officers, acting on the tip, asked if there was anything improper in his vehicle. On questioning, Gatewood admitted to the officers that there was a gun in his car.
McPhaul and Staley then searched the vehicle and found two 9 mm semiautomatic handguns. They also found three ammunition magazines, two of which were fully loaded, and a jar of marijuana with a digital scale.
The parole officers turned the evidence over to the Enterprise Police Department. McPhaul said that one of the guns had been reported stolen.
On March 17, 2008, Gatewood was sentenced to 25 years in prison for the armed robbery of a Dothan law office. He received three additional years for a child abuse conviction.
After serving just eight years of his sentence with the Alabama Department of Corrections, Gatewood was paroled in 2016. This was before Graddick was appointed the director of Pardons and Paroles. Gatewood has been supervised by parole officers since his release from prison.
For a convicted criminal to be in possession of firearms is a federal offense. That as well as the possession of illegal drugs and stolen property are all parole violations.
Gatewood, who has been jailed for the alleged parole violations, could potentially have his parole revoked for any one or more of these offenses. That will be determined in a future hearing.
Gatewood could potentially face new charges in the federal system for the gun charge. The stolen property and the marijuana could also be prosecuted in the state court system.
The possession of the digital scale is an indication that the marijuana was for other than personal use.
Depending on the amount of marijuana in the jar and any other evidence presented to the grand jury, Gatewood could potentially face a felony drug charge.