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Prison Study Commission hears from critics of the state’s prison system

Brandon Moseley

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Wednesday, the Governor’s Prison Study Commission met in Montgomery to hear criticism of the Alabama Department of Corrections from inmate advocates.

“In the last ten months 13 inmates have been murdered,” former Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb (D). It takes 34 states combined to equal that number. “22 individuals in the last two years have died from overdoses on synthetic marijuana.”

Cobb claimed that six Department of Corrections officers above the rank of sergeant have been arrested or fired for corruption.

“DOC has to come up with a plan to ferret out the corruption and the drugs and those two things are related,” Cobb said. “Community corrections is up from 1200 to 4500. Judges are using it, but the state has not invested enough in them.”

Cobb said that, “Quality low cost drug rehabilitation is absolutely essential to making our prisons safer.”

The Pardons and Paroles Board has basically eliminated all the gains that have been made in the reduction of prison overcrowding,” Cobb said.

Cobb asked the Commission to issue guidelines for parole recommend the expansion of drug courts, community corrections, and services for inmates.

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Cobb was a 2018 candidate for governor of Alabama; but lost the Democratic nomination to Tuscaloosa Mayor Walter “Walt” Maddox.

Attorney Donna Wesson Smalley said that Alabama’s inmates are sometimes being treated worse by the state of Alabama than the crimes that they committed to get put in prison.

“Two wrongs never make a right that is what my Mother always taught me,” Smalley said.

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Smalley said that the Commission should require that, “Body cameras be worn by every prison employee from the moment they clock in to the moment they clock out.”

Smalley attacked the recent assertion by Pardons and Paroles Board Director Charlie Graddick that addressing prison overcrowding is not one of the goals of the Boad.

“He is incorrect that is specifically one of the goals of Pardons and Paroles,” Smalley said.

Smalley said that denying paroles “Puts us in legal jeopardy.”

Smalleyu also scoffed at a proposed plan to spend $900 million to build new prisons.

“That is preposterous,” Smalley said.

Donna Wesson Smalley was the 2018 Democratic nominee for Alabama Supreme Court Associate Justice. She lost to Jay Mitchell (R) in the general election.

Dianne Caldwell, the wife of current inmate Cordarius Caldwell, addressed the Commission.

“He has been incarcerated for 15 years now,” Mrs. Caldwell said. “Our conversations are very difficult to hear………I cherish each and every phone call from my husband.”

Caldwell said that ADOC prisoners are dying from overdose, homicide, and suicides.

“Every time I hear of another stabbing my heart sinks,” Caldwell said. “I have had a heart attack worrying about what goes on in ADOC and I have gained a lot of weight.”

Caldwell said that it is also costly to paying for gas for visits to her husband in Elmore County, for phone calls, and for the commissary and that she has had to be responsible for the household while he is locked up.

“I am responsible for all of our family’s finances.” Caldwell said. “When he gets out it will be difficult for him to find jobs.”

Caldwell said that inmates “Do not have access to the rehabilitation, mental health services, and drug treatment needed for them to succeed.”

Caldwell charged that the state has, “Allowed our prisons to descend into chaos and violence.”

Cordarius Caldwell was convicted of murder and intimidation of a witness.

Courtney Davis is the wife of David Davis who was imprisoned for vehicular manslaughter for killing a person in St. Clair County in a head on crash, while driving under the influence of heroin.

Davis charged that he husband is receiving the, “Subpar care of the Alabama Department of Corrections” and needs a surgery to repair injuries sustained in his near fatal car crash. Davis said that that surgery to correct his very large hernias still has not been scheduled. Davis also charged that an ADOC sergeant hit her husband in his extended abdomen (an injury suffered in his car crash) and then said, “I did not hit you that hard.”

Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn told Mrs. Davis that her husband’s surgery has been scheduled for December 11.

A mother whose son was beaten allegedly by ADOC guards in Donaldson prison presented a picture of her son then still clinging to life on his deathbed, before succumbing to his injuries.

The Governor’s Prison Study Commission is chaired by former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Champ Lyons (R).

Lyons asked: “How do the drugs get in the prison?”

“We have corrupt officers,” Caldwell said.

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

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Governor awards grant to expand court facility dog program

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Gov. Kay Ivey has awarded $1.17 million to continue and expand a statewide program that helps children and others who have been victims of crime feel more at ease when testifying in court or undergoing other crime-related interviews.

The grant to the Alabama Office of Prosecution Services will enable that state agency to continue its facility dog program.

The program uses specially trained dogs to calm traumatized victims when they are called into the courtroom or interview room to recount details of often horrific crimes committed against them.

“I cannot imagine what victims, especially children, have to go through when they are called before strangers to recall what is often a very personal and sensitive tragedy that they have difficulty even relaying to family members,” Ivey said. “This program has proven beyond successful and has been admired and modeled by other states. I am pleased to support its continuation and expansion here in Alabama.”

Facility dogs have been used more than 1,000 times including forensic interviews, court hearings, medical examinations and other case-related matters. The dogs are based in several counties, but according to the Office of Prosecution Services, are available for use throughout the state.   

The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs is administering the grant from funds made available to the state from the U.S. Department of Justice.

“The facility dog program has been vastly successful and well received throughout the state,” said ADECA Director Kenneth Boswell. “Although we would prefer that there would be no reason for this program to even exist, ADECA joins with Gov. Ivey in assisting with its continued success.”

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Ivey notified Barry Matson, executive director of Prosecution Services, that the grant had been approved. 

ADECA administers a wide range of programs that support law enforcement, victim programs, economic development, water resource management, energy conservation and recreation.

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Governor issues State of Emergency ahead of Tropical Storm Sally

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Gov. Kay Ivey has issued a State of Emergency for Alabama ahead of Tropical Storm Sally. It is anticipated that this storm system will be upgraded to a hurricane sometime Monday.

“Bad weather is nothing to take lightly. Earlier today, I issued a State of Emergency because those on the Gulf Coast know a flood and heavy rains can be just as deadly as tropical winds,” Ivey said. “We pray that Sally doesn’t do any harm, but we must be prepared just in case. As your governor, you have my assurance that every resource will be available if we need it. Be safe, Alabama.”

The National Hurricane center is forecasting that Sally will be near the mouth of the Mississippi River late tonight. From there, it is forecast to slow down and turn north, and move into the Mississippi coast tomorrow afternoon.

The Alabama and Mississippi Gulf Coasts are under a Hurricane Warning, which also includes New Orleans and southeastern Louisiana coast. A tropical storm warning is in effect from Morgan City, Louisiana, to Panama City, Florida.

Mobile Bay is under a Storm Surge Warning. The combination of a dangerous storm surge and the tide will cause normally dry areas near the coast to flood by rising waters moving inland from the shoreline. The current forecast is that the Alabama Gulf Coast, including Mobile Bay, could see a storm surge of four to six feet.

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Police Chiefs Association “wholeheartedly” supports Ivey’s prison plan

Brandon Moseley

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey on Thursday announced the two developer teams that are to build the state’s three new mega prisons. Ivey said those prisons are to be located in Bibb, Elmore County and Escambia counties.

The president of the Alabama Association of Police Chiefs Chief Patrick W. Mardis released a statement in support of the governor’s plan.

“I wholeheartedly support Governor Ivey’s initiative to build new prisons in the state of Alabama,” Mardis said. “Not only will this ease the overcrowding within our facilities, but it will also improve officer safety and inmate conditions. In addition, we should see drastic improvements through the update of our facilities by returning to the intent of corrections — rehabilitating prisoners into productive citizens who are able to rejoin society.”

Mardis is the chief of the Tuskegee University Police, a position he has held since 2010. Prior to that, Mardis served with the Fairfield Police Department for 22 years, the last five as police chief.

“The Alabama Prison Program is vital for the long-term success of our state and communities,” Ivey said in a statement. “We all — legislators, advocates, and taxpayers, alike — can and should agree that we must rebuild Alabama’s correctional system from the ground up to improve safety for our state’s correctional staff and inmate population, and we must do it immediately.”

ADOC Commissioner Jeff Dunn said, “This important benchmark demonstrates meaningful progress against our multi-faceted strategy to transform Alabama’s correctional system and empowers the ADOC to shift to a rehabilitative model. It is no secret that the ADOC is facing real, longstanding challenges, most of which are decades in the making and rooted in inadequate, crowded, and structurally failing facilities. Building new facilities that improve safety and security for staff and inmates and allow for effective inmate rehabilitation is the right and only path forward.”

According to the governor’s office, the Alabama Department of Corrections Evaluation Committee previously identified qualified developer teams based on the experience and qualifications of the team lead, equity partners, design and construction teams, and service providers, as well as their ability to adequately meet the financial needs of the Alabama Prison Program.

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The Evaluation Committee provided an assessment of the proposals submitted by the developer teams including a review of the proposed lease price and financial plan, as well as technical evaluations of the proposed design.

In evaluating the proposed designs, the Evaluation Committee ensured that the developer teams proposed sustainable facilities that are safe, secure and compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, the American Correctional Association’s guidelines and other nationally recognized standards, with a driving goal to provide evidence-based rehabilitation to all inmates.

The governor said that the new facilities will feature approximately 37 percent more programming space per inmate, as well as increased educational, training and recreational/exercise space, which the governor’s office said “will provide for a more meaningful visitation experience for inmates and their loved ones.”

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The new prisons will have four times more celled spaces than open dorms as compared to current facilities, which will reduce the potential for violent incidents to occur, enhance safety for both correctional officers and inmates and improve the quality of working conditions for the staff.

The procurement process will now enter into a confidential negotiation period to ensure and secure the best possible value for the state. ADOC intends to negotiate long-term leases for each facility. While ADOC will operate and staff the facilities, the developer teams will provide infrastructure maintenance and life-cycle replacement for the duration of the lease term.

ADOC expects to close on the facilities to occur later this year, at which time the final financial terms will become publicly available. Construction is to begin in early 2021.

The construction of the new facilities will create thousands of construction jobs. Facility One will be located in Bibb County, creating 2,900 construction jobs. Facility Two will be in Elmore County and will create 3,900 construction jobs. Facility Three will be in Escambia County and produce 2,800 construction jobs.

As Alabama’s population has grown, the state has failed to build new prisons to keep up. The prison facilities that the state does have are 40, 50 or 60 years old and ADOC has long neglected maintenance on their aging facilities.

Ivey identified replacing the state’s crumbling prison infrastructure as the most pressing need facing state government in her inauguration speech last year.

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Gov. Kay Ivey announces locations for three new prisons

Eddie Burkhalter

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Private prison company CoreCivic has selected this land on Rifle Range Road outside of Tallassee as a possibility for one of the state's three new prisons.

Gov. Kay Ivey on Thursday announced the two developer teams that are to build the state’s three new mega prisons, and said those prisons are to be located in Bibb, Elmore County and Escambia counties.

But Ivey’s announcement left many important questions unanswered, and the details of what has been estimated to be more than $2 billion over the terms of the leases won’t be made publicly available until after the deals are signed with the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC).  Ivey’s prison build plan now moves on to the lease negotiation phase.

The private prison company CoreCivic is to build and lease back to the state two of the three prisons, according to Ivey’s office; one in Elmore County, where several locations are under review, and the other to be located near Bell Fork Road in Escambia County.

APR reported in February that CoreCivic for more than two years had been eyeing land outside the city of Tallassee in Elmore county to build one of Alabama’s new prisons.

In addition to the 376 acres on Rifle Range Road in Elmore County, CoreCivic is also considering the location where Draper prison as a potential build site, sources who live in the area have told APR. Draper prison closed in 2016, but ADOC in April said the department made renovations to portions of the Draper building to house incoming inmates in quarantine during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The prison to be located near AL-139 and County Road CR-2 in Bibb County is to be built by a group called Alabama Prison Transformation Partners, made up of Star America, BL Harbert International, Butler-Cohen, Arrington Watkins Architects and Johnson Controls, Inc.

“The procurement process will now enter into a confidential negotiation period to ensure and secure the best possible value for the state,” according to a press release from Ivey’s office.

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The Alabama Department of Corrections expects to close on those deals in late 2020, and the terms of the deal – which has been estimated at more than $2 billion, when including interest over the lease period – won’t be made publicly available until after the deals are signed.

Once those leases have run their course, the state won’t own the three prisons, ADOC Commissioner Jeff Dunn told state legislators in June. At the end of the leases, the state will have to renegotiate the terms, Dunn said then.

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Previous plans by former Gov. Robert Bentley in 2016 and 2017, to build new prisons through issuance of bonds failed after state lawmakers couldn’t agree to vote the deals through. Ivey took up a similar plan, but by using a build-lease proposal the state Legislature is removed from the process of having to agree to fund the build.

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.

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.

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly told the Associated Press in February 2019 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.”

The Alabama Department of Corrections is to operate and staff the prisons, while the developer teams are to maintain them, according to Ivey’s plan.

“The Alabama Prison Program is vital for the long-term success of our state and communities. We all – legislators, advocates, and taxpayers, alike – can and should agree that we must rebuild Alabama’s correctional system from the ground up to improve safety for our state’s correctional staff and inmate population, and we must do it immediately,” Ivey said in a statement. “Given the failing state of the ADOC’s existing infrastructure and that the Department already is faced with more than $1 billion in deferred maintenance costs alone, pursuing new construction without raising taxes or incurring debt is the fiscally sound and responsible decision. I am pleased with the integrity of this procurement process thus far and look forward to continuing to work closely with the legislature as we comprehensively address this intricate and important issue that affects us all.”

ADOC has said that the state will be able to pay for the new prison leases through savings by offsetting the cost of repairing the state’s existing, dilapidated prisons, although the department has not released any breakdowns of those estimated savings or of expected staffing needs at the new prisons.

According to the press release from Ivey’s office on Thursday, Ivey will soon issue an executive order establishing the Alabama Prison Repurposing Commission, which will evaluate the state’s existing 13 prisons for men.

“The Commission will make recommendations as to which ADOC facilities should be retained and renovated as major correctional facilities, which could be renovated and repurposed for another use by the ADOC, and which should be repurposed to serve a different purpose, whether by another public entity or the private sector,” the release states.

The U.S. Department of Justice in July released a report detailing systemic problems of excessive use-of-force by guards in Alabama prisons, a failure to properly investigate the incidents and attempts by correctional officers and their supervisors to cover them up.

Severe overcrowding and understaffing contribute to the “patterns or practices of uses of excessive force,” the report states. Alabama’s 13 men’s prisons as of January held 6,000 more inmates than capacity allowed. Illicit drugs and other contraband in Alabama prisons have been a continuing problem, leading to more violence, sexual assaults and death, federal investigators found. If Alabama fails to satisfy the federal government’s concerns with 49 days of the release of the report, the government could sue, according to a letter from the Justice Department to Ivey.

Dunn has said that the new prisons alone won’t solve the overcrowding issue, and lawmakers have said Ivey isn’t likely to take up a special session to address the state’s prison crisis, leaving the fate of sentencing reform proposals floated by several lawmakers earlier this year uncertain.

Critics of Ivey’s plan to build new prisons say without broad changes in the culture of violence and corruption among prison staff, new facilities alone won’t solve the state’s crisis.

Alabamians for Fair Justice, a coalition of groups, advocates for incarcerated people and formerly incarcerated people, said in a statement following Ivey’s announcement Thursday that people in Alabama’s prisons are dying.

“They are dying at the hands of brutal and corrupt guards and leaders who have done little to address the culture of violence, medical neglect, and drug smuggling that ADOC staff engage in. They are dying from COVID-19. They are dying as a result of inadequate health care. They are dying because of inhumane conditions. They are dying from corruption that allows drugs to flood the prisons. And people will continue to die if the only action officials take is building more prisons,” the group’s statement reads.

“If Alabama truly wants to address the prison crisis, lawmakers must pass sentencing reforms like abolishing the Habitual Felony Offender Act and making the 2013 Sentencing Guidelines retroactive; investing in prison alternatives and community resources such as diversion programs, mental health treatment, and drug treatment; requiring the parole board to release more people; and creating a diverse and inclusive oversight committee to hold prison officials accountable for working to end the abuse of incarcerated people by ADOC correctional officers.

“The U.S. Department of Justice has already told us twice that brick and mortar is not the answer to the conditions that the DOJ found ‘routinely violate the constitutional rights of prisoners.’ Data-driven, humane policy solutions are needed now. It is time for the State of Alabama to put people over political interests and corporate profits.”

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