Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn told members of the Senate budget committees Thursday that the department is moving forward with the process of seeking bids on three new state prisons.
Among other topics addressed was the status of the Alabama Prison Program.
Dunn said that because of the long neglected maintenance of the existing prisons, “We are being required to decommission a facility every 23 months.”
Dunn said that they have already decommissioned Draper and the main facility at Holman, and there could be another prison that has to be decommissioned in the next year.
“This issue is due to 30 years of neglect and is beginning to have a direct and measurable impact on our ability to do our jobs,” Dunn told the senators. “We likely will have to decommission another one.”
Dunn explained that ADOC had requested corporations and consortiums to prepare proposals on building the mega-prisons in Spring 2019. By Fall, ADOC had been able to ask four groups to make proposals to the state.
“Two have self-eliminated,” Dunn told senators. Two groups submitted proposals to the state in May, and now ADOC is in the process of studying the financials of the two remaining bidders. “The financial evaluation could be finished by the end of July.”
Dunn said that ADOC will be able to identify the bidder that has been invited to negotiate with the state as soon as August or perhaps in early September. There will be three bids, one for each of the three new facilities. The Governor will then negotiate with the bidder on the three contracts for the three facilities.
Dunn said he hoped that the contracts will be finalized by January. “The lease payments will come out of the general fund.”
State Sen. Jim McClendon, R-Springville, asked: “Does the Legislature have any role in this at all?”
Dunn said that one of the benefits of building the new facilities is that they will be, “Considerably more staff efficient than our facilities now. There will be staff savings, consolidation savings, and energy savings. It is not our intent to come to the legislature and ask for a bump up to pay for this.”
“We have requested to have facilities with a 50 year expected life,” Dunn said. “The maintenance is included in the contract.”
Dunn explained that the lease contracts will be for 30 years. “Something will have to occur after 30 years.”
Sen. Linda Coleman-Madison, D-Birmingham, asked if the state will own the three mega-prisons at the end of the thirty-year contracts.
“I do not know at this point what exactly will happen at the end of the lease,” Dunn answered. “We will not own the buildings.”
State Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, said, “We are going to spend $2 billion and never own it!”
“I can’t speak to what will or will not happen in the future,” Dunn responded.
State Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, said, “We have not built a new facility in 30 years. Facilities built 30 years ago are pretty worthless.”
The state is facing lawsuits in federal court over its chronic prison overcrowding.
“We will not completely extinguish the overcrowding problem by building these new facilities,” Dunn told the senators.
“The purpose of these three new facilities is to more from warehousing criminals to rehabilitating citizens,” Dunn said. “These new facilities are built with that vision in mind. 95 percent of our inmate community will eventually return to the community.”
It is in our best interests to prepare those inmates for their return to society, Dunn said. “Right now our facilities fight against that, they don’t support that.”
“These are huge projects,” Dunn said when asked to provide estimates of when the new prisons would open. There will be a six month stagger between the opening of each of the three facilities. The construction time for each facility is ranged from 28 to 36 months. The third facility is bigger than the other two and it will take more time. “We will be negotiating all of that.”
“Currently we are at 155 percent capacity,” Dunn said. “Once we get these facilities built we will be somewhere between 120 and 125 percent capacity.”
“137.5 percent was the number used in the California case,” Dunn explained. “We wanted a number below that. We felt the need to build in a buffer to protect the state.”
Sen. Bill Beasley, D-Clayton, said, “I am concerned about the local governments, the water and sewer boards who have entered into debt to support current facilities. How are they going to be compensated for if they have indebtedness?”
“We are working on an infrastructure masterplan,” Dunn answered. “Did it stay in inventory? Could it be repurposed? Could it be re-missioned for another purpose? Could it be a lite industrial site? We have had talked with the Department of Commerce and Secretary Canfield about that.”
“Nothing is going to close or change for two or three years when we open the first facility and they are staggered after this.” Dunn said. “Those concerns will all be vetted. I do not have the ability to make any commitment at this time.”
Dunn said that the main facility at Holman prison has been closed taking their population down from 1,000 prisoners to 314.
“Death row has been moved,” Dunn added. That staff has been decreased. “28 members have been reassigned from Holman to Fountain Correctional Facilities a mile and a half away.”
Dunn said that ADOC is currently in negotiations with a corporate owned prison in Perry County to purchase that facility and convert it into a transitional reentry center.
“We are in active negotiations with then and hope to have some news soon,” Dunn said.
Dunn also briefed the senators on the COVID-19 impact on ADOC at the same committee meeting.