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State senators briefed on prison construction plans

Brandon Moseley

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(STOCK PHOTO)

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.

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“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?”

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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.

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 orders flags lowered in honor of former Rep. Alvin Holmes

Ivey’s directive calls for flags to be lowered on Sunday when Holmes is to be buried.

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Gov. Kay Ivey on Tuesday ordered the flags at the State Capitol and in State House District 78 to be lowered to half-staff in honor of former State Rep. Alvin Holmes, a tireless advocate for the Black community who served in the House for 44 years. 

Holmes, 81, died Saturday. Ivey’s directive calls for flags to be lowered on Sunday when Holmes is to be buried and remain lowered until sunset that day. 

“A native of Montgomery, Rep. Holmes served the people of Alabama in the House of Representatives for 44 years,” Ivey wrote in her directive. “As the longest-serving representative in our state’s history, it is only fitting that we pay homage to his decades of dedicated service. Anyone that had the privilege of working with or hearing Rep. Holmes address the legislature, knows that he was passionate about his work and cared deeply about improving our state, specifically in matters regarding civil rights. His unique approach to conveying the importance of causes he supported garnered much respect from his colleagues and is something the people of our state will not soon forget. I offer my sincere condolences and prayers to his family, friends and constituents of his beloved community.”

A caravan honoring Holmes took place in Montgomery on Monday.

State Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, the chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party, released a statement mourning Holmes’s passing.

“Representative Alvin Holmes was a great Democrat and a fighter,” England said. “He stood on the frontlines of the fight for civil rights and was willing to sacrifice everything in his fight for justice for all. He not only had a long and distinguished career as a civil rights leader, but also as a member of the Legislature, serving his constituents faithfully and dutifully for 44 years. Alabama has lost a giant, whose wit, intelligence, fearlessness, selfless determination, and leadership will be sorely missed. My prayers are with his friends, family, and colleagues.”

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Legislature

The Alabama Senate will be under new leadership in 2021

The caucus unanimously elected Sen. Greg Reed, R-Jasper, as the new pro tem. 

Josh Moon

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Alabama State Sen. Greg Reed, R-Jasper

The Alabama Senate will be under new leadership when the 2021 legislative session begins. 

Del Marsh, who has served as president pro tem of the senate since 2010, announced that he wouldn’t be seeking a leadership role during a Republican caucus vote held Monday. The caucus unanimously elected Sen. Greg Reed, R-Jasper, as the new pro tem. 

The caucus also selected Clay Scofield, R-Guntersville, as the new majority leader, a position Reed has held for the last several years. 

Marsh’s decision not to seek the leadership role wasn’t particularly surprising. Numerous ALGOP lawmakers have said privately over the last two years that Marsh has toyed with the idea of stepping down and handing the position to Reed. Marsh also announced last month that he won’t seek re-election to the Senate when his term ends in 2022, bringing to a close a 24-year tenure. 

In a particularly candid interview with his hometown newspaper, the Anniston Star, in October, Marsh indicated that he had grown tired of politics altogether due to the hyper-partisan climate and was unlikely to seek any public office. He also blamed President Donald Trump for helping to create a toxic climate. 

“I’ll be darned if I want to go up there and fight all of the time,” Marsh said in the Star interview. “I don’t know what it’s going to take to end the animosity. I blame [President] Trump for part of this. What happens on the national level — the fighting and name-calling — filters down to the state.”

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For Reed and Scofield, the moves up the ladder weren’t exactly speedy. They’ve each served in the senate since 2010, and Reed has served as majority leader since 2014.

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Legislature

Caravan to honor the life of longtime State Rep. Alvin Holmes

The caravan is being organized by community activists Ja’Mel Brown and William Boyd.

Brandon Moseley

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(STOCK PHOTO)

There is a car ride caravan honoring the life and service of Rep. Alvin Holmes in Montgomery at 2 p.m. Monday. The caravan is being organized by community activists Ja’Mel Brown and William Boyd.

On Saturday, Holmes passed away at age 81. He was born in 1939 into a very segregated Montgomery and spent his life battling in favor of civil rights causes. He was one of the first Black state representatives to serve in the Alabama Legislature after implementation of the Voting Rights Act.

There had been Black legislators during Reconstruction in the 1870s, but Jim Crow segregation during much of the 20th Century had effectively disenfranchised millions of Black Alabamians for generations.

Holmes served in the Alabama House of Representatives, representing House District 78 from 1974 to 2018. Holmes participated in the civil rights movement. He was a professor and a real estate broker.

The chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party, State Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, released a statement mourning Holmes’s passing.

“Representative Alvin Holmes was a great Democrat and a fighter,” England said. “He stood on the frontlines of the fight for civil rights and was willing to sacrifice everything in his fight for justice for all. He not only had a long and distinguished career as a civil rights leader, but also as a member of the Legislature, serving his constituents faithfully and dutifully for 44 years. Alabama has lost a giant, whose wit, intelligence, fearlessness, selfless determination, and leadership will be sorely missed. My prayers are with his friends, family, and colleagues.”

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State Rep. Kirk Hatcher, D-Montgomery, fondly remembered Holmes, whom he defeated in the 2018 Democratic primary.

“Today we lost a dedicated warrior for social justice. Representative Alvin Holmes was a true public servant,” Hatcher said. “What an amazing legacy he has left us! He could always be seen waging the good fight for equality in all aspects of state government and beyond. His public service is legendary and without peer.”

“In recent years, I am profoundly grateful for the grace he showed me in his willingness to share with me his blueprint for effectively serving our people—and by extension the larger community,” Hatcher said. “Today, my fervent prayers are with his beloved daughter Veronica, her precious mom (and his best friend), as well as other cherished members of his family and friends as they mourn his passing. I humbly join the many voices who offer a sincere ‘Thank You’ to Mr. Alvin Holmes for his dedicated service to our Montgomery community and our state. ‘May angels sing thee to thy rest.’”

State Rep. Tashina Morris, D-Montgomery, also fondly remembered Holmes.

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“Sending Prayers to The Holmes family,” Morris said. “Alvin Holmes was the epitome of greatness working for his people!! May you Rest Well !!!”

Republican insider and former State Rep. Perry Hooper Jr. also served with Holmes in the Alabama House of Representatives and the Montgomery legislative delegation.

“I served with Alvin for 20 years in the Alabama Legislature,” Hooper said. “We often disagreed on the issues, but even after a heated floor debate, we could shake hands at the end of the day. I always considered him a friend. He loved Montgomery and he was a great representative of his district and its issues. He was always willing to go the extra mile for one of his constituents. When I served as Chairman of the Contract Review Committee, he was one of the committee’s most conscientious members. He was always questioning contracts so he could be assured that the contract represented a good use of taxpayer’s dollars which as Chairman I greatly appreciated. He was one of a kind pioneer in the Alabama Legislature and will be sorely missed.”

Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill served with Holmes in the Alabama House of Representatives prior to his election as secretary of state.

“I just learned that former State Rep. Alvin Holmes passed away today,” Merrill said on social media. “I enjoyed the privilege of serving with him from 2010-14. There was never a dull moment whenever he was in the Chamber. I appreciated him for his candor & for his desire to work on behalf of his constituents!”

Holmes was a member of the Hutchinson Missionary Baptist Church, Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Montgomery Improvement Association, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Alabama Southern Christian Leadership Conference Board, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He has one daughter, Veronica.

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Longtime State Rep. Alvin Holmes has died

Montgomery Fire and Rescue responded to a call at Holmes’ residence on Saturday afternoon, and they found the 81-year-old unresponsive. 

Josh Moon

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State Rep. Alvin Holmes

Alvin Holmes, a 44-year veteran of the Alabama Legislature and one of the state’s most outspoken proponents for racial inclusion, has died. Montgomery Fire and Rescue responded to a call at Holmes’ residence on Saturday afternoon, and they found the 81-year-old unresponsive. 

Over a four-decade-plus career in the Alabama House of Representatives, Holmes was a lightning rod for criticism from his fellow white lawmakers and the white voters who elected them, as he repeatedly challenged the status quo and went headlong at biases and racism that prevented more Black Alabamians from serving in positions of power in the state. 

Holmes was a foot soldier in the Civil Rights Movement in Montgomery and led the charge on getting the Confederate battle flag removed from Alabama’s Capitol building. Holmes fought many of his battles, especially the early ones, by himself, and while to his friends he would admit that standing alone wasn’t always pleasant, he never showed such hesitation outwardly, seeming to revel in the hateful words and personal attacks from other lawmakers and the public. 

Many of the fights Holmes began were later finished in federal courtrooms, and they most often led to further advancements for Black Alabamians.

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