Gov. Kay Ivey on Friday sent a letter to lawmakers to inform them that next week she’ll officially set a special legislative session to debate construction of new prisons, to begin Sept. 27.
Sources with knowledge of the discussions tell APR that Republicans are united in agreement on the proposal, and that while Democrats haven’t firmly committed, they’re likely to agree. Those sources say they hope to conclude the special session in one week.
A draft of the bill lays out a plan to build a specialized 4,000-bed men’s prison in Elmore County, another 4,000-bed men’s prison in Escambia County, a new women’s prison and renovations to four existing prisons,
A bond issuance of up to $785 million would pay for phase one of the planned construction, which includes both new prisons for men. Phase two comprises of construction of the new women’s prison, to replace the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women, and renovations of prisons in Limestone and Jefferson counties, and renovations of one prison in either Barbour or Bullock counties.
Some lawmakers are also hoping the state can use $400 million in federal CARE Act funds to help pay for the projects.
The U.S. Department of Justice in December filed a federal lawsuit against the state of Alabama and the Alabama Department of Corrections, alleging violations of inmates’ constitutional rights to protection from prisoner-on-prisoner violence, sexual abuse and excessive force by prison guards.
In previously released reports, the Justice Department detailed systemic problems of abuse from guards, corruption, rampant drug use, violence, overcrowding and understaffing in Alabama’s prisons. The DOJ in those reports states that while new prison facilities might help in some areas, new buildings won’t fully address the state’s widespread, deadly problems in its prisons.
Ivey’s plan to lease new prisons from a private prison company fell through when that company, CoreCivic, was unable to secure financing. Ivey could call a special session for lawmakers to consider the prison construction proposal. The regular session begins Jan. 11.
Prison construction will be the focus of this special session, those sources tell APR, and any other reform measures that could address the DOJ’s concerns about Alabama’s deadly prisons will likely have to be debated in another session.