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Alabama Republicans praise Ivey’s State of the State speech

Brandon Moseley

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Tuesday, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey (R) laid out an ambitious agenda in her annual State of the State Address that includes: building three new prisons, a three percent teacher pay raise, a two percent state employee pay raise, mental health crisis centers, broadband expansion, hiring more state troopers, workforce development, a governor’s study group on gaming, and a “Yes” vote on Amendment One. Alabama Republicans praised Gov. Ivey’s speech.

“This evening Governor Ivey demonstrated why she is ranked one of the top-10 approval rated governors in the nation,” Alabama Republican Party Chairman Terry Lathan said. “The state of our state is strong, thanks to her focused leadership. The results are solid. With an unemployment rate of 2.7% – the lowest in our state’s 200 year history and among the lowest in the nation – and 77,000 new jobs created in last year alone, Alabama’s economy shows no signs of slowing down. This has enabled the Ivey administration to add much needed services and personnel to help our citizens, including a 17% increase in State Troopers on our roadways, job training programs and increasing rural broadband access.”

“Governor Ivey will continue to move our great state forward in the new year, creating a brighter tomorrow for Alabamians and their children,” Lathan predicted. “Not only did she pledge to build on her past successes – with pay raises for our educators and public employees – but is also introducing new initiatives including the one billion dollar public school and college authority, a major investment in our schools. This is in addition to our education budget, the largest in state history, and will help enhance and expand our number one rated pre-k program, among others. Heralding another record breaking year of adoptions is something for all of us to celebrate. We are reminded there has been no proration since the Republicans took over the legislature in 2010. Alabama is starting off our next 100 years in incredible shape and with Governor Ivey steadying our state, it will only keep getting better. Alabama does not back away from high steps.”

Economic developer Dr. Nicole Jones attended and shared, “A refreshing theme resonated in the Old House Chamber – Alabama’s business climate is strong and unprecedented. Economic development is a team effort, and our Governor has worked with the business community, elected officials, and constituents to facilitate this environment. Economic development requires partnerships, strategic planning, and investment in our future. If we continue following these principles, we will continue to witness success stories in Alabama. Governor Ivey also expressed a willingness to tackle tough problems that other parties have not had the political courage to do so. I commend the governor and her efforts to address rural healthcare, prison reform, and education.”

“Tonight, Governor Ivey laid out a vision for Alabama that will move our state forward into this new decade. Her vision is strong and will position Alabama to continue being a leader in economic development and job creation,” said Alabama Policy Institute President Caleb Crosby. “Governor Ivey showed she is not afraid to tackle our problems and I stand ready to work with her as we address prison overcrowding and the need to press the restart button on our state’s education system.”

“Alabama has an opportunity to set the stage for the nation by being a leader in reducing burdensome taxes and regulations on families and businesses,” Crosby continued. “We can start by eliminating the grocery tax and reforming occupational licensing. Now is the time to lead the way in expanding access to school choice and give our children the best chance possible to succeed. A child’s future must not be determined by her zip code.”

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Former state representative Perry O. Hooper Jr. (R-Montgomery) said, “Governor Ivey did a great job in pointing out that we made tremendous progress in the last legislative session by working together in a bipartisan manner. If we continue this bipartisan mindset on working for what is good for Alabama, our third century can be our best. As it has always been, Governor Ivey emphasized her commitment to education by proposing a pay raise for teachers, additional capital spending and more funding for education programs that work. She did not forget state workers proposing a pay raise for them also. She proposed a pilot program for incentivizing health care workers to work in underserved rural areas. She addressed the 800-pound gorilla in the room, the myriad of issues within our corrections system. As she has always stated “The prison system problems must be addressed with Alabama solutions” not mandates from Washington. She emphasized after decades of neglect; new construction is mandatory. The speech was a shining example of Governor Ivey’s vision for the state under her quiet decisive leadership. I have no doubt that Governor Ivey will get it done.”

Ivey did not mention medical marijuana in her speech, one of the most controversial topics facing the legislature in 2020.

“However, not all legislation being considered is helpful; we must be careful to avoid the creation of uncontrollable government bureaucracy like that being considered in the current medical marijuana proposal,” Crosby warned. “Alabama is the most conservative state in the nation; our policies and the bills passed by our legislature and signed by the governor should reflect that.”

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A number of legislators have gambling proposals: a paper lottery, a compact with the Poarch Creek Band of Indians, video lottery terminals at the dog tracks, legalized sports wagering, new casinos in Birmingham and Huntsville, etc. Ivey asked the legislators to put those proposals aside and wait for her appointed working group to research the issue and come back with a recommendation for the state. Ivey said that she wanted the people to ultimately decide the issue.

“The Alabama Policy Institute will work with Governor Ivey and the members of the legislature to reduce government intrusion, control spending, and implement free-market, freedom-driven solutions,” Crosby concluded.

Day two of the 2020 legislative session will be on Thursday.

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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