Alabama has signed the first contract with a company that is set to build one of at least two new prisons, but the contract hasn’t yet been released.
The Alabama Department of Corrections is redacting the contract with Montgomery-based Caddell Construction to build a new 4,000- bed prison for men in Elmore County. Such contracts contain security information about the physical building that the department often redacts.
“It is a lengthy document, and the redaction process will take some time,” an Alabama Department of Corrections spokeswoman responded in a Tuesday email to APR, seeking the contract.
That contract, which was signed April 15, is for the construction of the prison that’s to provide enhanced medical and mental health services, Gov. Kay Ivey’s spokeswoman, Gina Maiolo, told APR in a message.
The state Legislature in October 2021, approved a $1.3 billion prison construction package which includes plans for two new 4,000-bed prisons for men, to be located in Escambia and Elmore counties. The Legislature also approved transferring $154 million from the General Fund for the new prisons, and the use of $400 million in federal COVID aid to help pay for the new prisons, a controversial move that opponents have said was a misuse of those funds.
APR was the first to report land in Elmore County was being sought to build one of the new prisons.
The U.S. Department of Justice in the federal government’s lawsuit against Alabama alleges unconstitutional treatment of incarcerated men, including a lack of basic health care and mental health care in understaffed and deadly facilities.
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.
Supporters of the prison construction plan say the new facilities are needed to replace some existing dilapidated prisons and to address concerns the federal government spells out in the lawsuit, but critics of the plan worry new prisons won’t solve the systemic problems in Alabama’s prisons.
Despite COVID lockdowns that prevented visitations, drugs still managed to enter Alabama prisons resulting in violence and a rash of likely overdose deaths. Correctional officers’ use of violence against prisoners has also led to several arrests and the recent indictment of one office for allegedly beating three compliant men with a wooden baton.
Carla Crowder, executive director of Alabama Appleseed, told APR last year of her concerns that the prison construction plan doesn’t include funding to pay for promised expansions of services to incarcerated people.
“Appleseed’s concern with this bill is not about fighting new prison construction. It’s because this bill promises an Elmore facility with enhanced medical and mental health care, education, rehabilitation services, humane treatment for elderly people, but it provides no funding for any of those things,” Crowder said.
Gov. Kay Ivey’s previous plan, which called for new prisons to be built by the private prison company CoreCivic and leased to the state, fell through when CoreCivic was unable to secure financing for the deal, following much pressure against financial firms from investing in prisons.