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Gov. Kay Ivey orders Alabama to stay at home as cases near 1,500

Chip Brownlee | The Trace

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Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey is issuing a stay-at-home order, reversing course after two weeks of saying the state didn’t need one.

“I can’t say this any more clearly,” Ivey said. “COVID-19 is an imminent threat to our way of life. And you need to understand that we have passed urging people to stay at home. It is now the law.”

Before Friday, Ivey has said she did not believe the situation in Alabama warranted such a restrictive order.

“Late yesterday afternoon, it became obvious that more needs to be done,” Ivey said Friday at a press conference.

The governor said as recently as Thursday during a Twitter town hall that she wanted to balance public health and the economy, adding that the state is different from other states facing large outbreaks of the novel coronavirus.

“We have seen other states in the country doing that as well as other countries,” Ivey said last week. “However, y’all, we are not California. We are not New York. We are not even Louisiana.”

But by Friday morning — as cases of COVID-19 in Alabama surpassed 1,400 and the governors of all of Alabama’s neighboring states announced stay-at-home orders — Ivey decided to issue one, too.

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“I am convinced that our previous efforts to limit social interaction and reduce the chances of spreading this virus have not been enough,” Ivey said. “And that’s why we are taking this more drastic step.”

The new rules will go into effect on Saturday, April 4, at 5 p.m. and will expire on Tuesday, April 30, 2020, at 5 p.m. (You can view the full order at the bottom of this page.)

Ivey said Friday that the state must take this “deadly seriously.”

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“If you’re eager for a fall football season coming up, what we’re doing today gives us a better chance of being able to do that as well,” she said.

The decision also comes after White House adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci and the U.S. surgeon general said the White House’s COVID-19 guidance amounts to a recommendation for a nationwide stay-at-home order.

Ivey’s new order will require Alabamians to stay at home as much as possible — except for essential outings like grocery shopping and getting medical care.

“No one is immune from this. It’s not even safe to go to our places of worship and congregate as we are so used to doing at this holy time of the year,” Ivey said.

Essential outings will include work at critical jobs, solitary exercise outdoors, buying food, going to the grocery store or getting health care or medicine. Those will still be allowed.

Attorney General Steve Marshall said Friday that the stay-at-home order will have the force of law and will be enforced as such. Criminal prosecution of those who do not comply is possible, but he said he hopes people will voluntarily comply.

“This is a time when we should be working together to get through an extremely difficult time,” Marshall said.

Last week, Ivey ordered closed until April 17 numerous types of businesses including athletic events, entertainment venues, non-essential retail shops and service establishments with close contact.

But she did not go as far as ordering residents to stay home.

In other ways, Ivey moved more quickly than neighboring governors. She closed the state’s beaches on March 19, before other states like Florida. She also ordered restaurants to limit service to take-out and delivery.

By last Friday, the state prohibited gatherings of 10 or more people and any gathering in which a six-foot distance could not be maintained between persons, but the order did not apply to work-related gatherings.

The governor and the state superintendent of education also closed schools for the remainder of the school year.

Ivey, unlike the governor in Mississippi, did not try to overrule cities and counties who issued curfews and stay-at-home orders. She said she supported them.

Before Ivey closed restaurants and some non-essential businesses last week, Jefferson County didn’t wait on state leaders. Health officers in Jefferson County — where the number of cases is high — issued more restrictive measures meant to keep residents safe during the pandemic.

Jefferson and Mobile Counties, however, are the only in the state to have independent health departments, with legal authority to act autonomously from the state health department.

The new order comes as dire modeling from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation estimate that Alabama could reach its peak of the outbreak by April 17 and it could be one of the worst-affected states.

At the height of the outbreak, the modeling suggests Alabama could see 303 COVID-19 deaths per day for a total of 5,500 deaths by August — much higher than most states. Alabama may also face a hospital bed and ventilator shortage by mid-April, the IHME projections estimate.

The model, which changes often based on the number of deaths reported per day, shows that Alabama could, at the height of its outbreak, see more deaths per day than Florida, Illinois or Texas.

Florida and Texas have more than twenty times the population of Alabama.

Some have suggested the IHME modeling, which has been cited by President Donald Trump and his coronavirus task force, are actually too optimistic.

Others say they are, for states like Alabama, worst-case scenarios. Different states have more data available for the model to work off. In Alabama, the outbreak is younger and fewer data points are available. FiveThirtyEight has explained why building models to predict pandemics is so difficult.

But experts at the University of Alabama Birmingham, including the director of the division of infectious diseases, Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, have said the IHME modeling may be the worst-case scenario, but it is instructive.

Marrazzo is on the governor’s coronavirus task force. She’s warned that the state could be facing supply shortages and dire decisions if the outbreak is not contained. “This is not a hypothetical,” she said Thursday.

In the last two days, the model’s death projections for Alabama have been revised downward from more than 7,000 total deaths to 5,000. The models are live and will likely change again. For Alabama in particular, there is a lot of uncertainty in the model.

“I don’t know that the actual numbers are going to be correct or not,” State Health Officer Scott Harris said Friday. “I mean, they might be, and we’re doing our best to prepare for that.”

The light red area indicates uncertainty in the model.

But Alabama, like most southern states, is particularly susceptible to the virus because a high number of the state’s residents have underlying health conditions that make them more vulnerable to severe illness and death.

So far, about one in 10 deaths in the United States from COVID-19 has occurred in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia, according to data assembled by the COVID Tracking Project.

During a town hall with Sen. Doug Jones Thursday, Marrazzo suggested the state may need a stay-at-home order to send a clear message. Jones also called on Ivey to issue such an order.

“The reason I would like to see one is because it sends a strong message to the people of Alabama of how significant it is to use the social distancing, to use whatever means necessary to stop the spread of this virus,” Jones said Thursday.

As of Friday afternoon, Alabama had nearly 1,500 positive cases and 38 reported deaths.

Alabama Stay-At-Home Order by Chip Brownlee on Scribd

Chip Brownlee is a former political reporter, online content manager and webmaster at the Alabama Political Reporter. He is now a reporter at The Trace, a non-profit newsroom covering guns in America.

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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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