By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News
The construction of the two-man prison, which the Alabama legislature will debate and possibly approve next week, will cost between $ 1.2 billion and $ 1.3 billion. Upgrades to other prisons and a new women’s prison will be added to that amount, according to State House officials.
The priority for the first phase of the bill is the construction of two 4,000-bed men’s facilities in Elmore and Escambia counties. House General Fund Budget Committee Chairman Steve Clouse R-Ozark put their estimated cost at $ 650 million and $ 550 million, respectively. The Elmore site is over because it will house more medical and mental health and addiction programs.
Senator Greg Albritton, Clouse’s counterpart in the Senate, estimated that the Elmore site would cost around $ 760 million and the Escambia site around $ 533 million.
A bill handed out to lawmakers this month allows the state to borrow $ 785 million in bonds for the two sites with an estimated annual debt service of about $ 50 million per year. Legislative leaders also believe they can use around $ 400 million in federal COVID-19 relief money, allowing them to start spinning the dirt sooner. About $ 150 million in General Fund allocations are also expected to be spent on projects.
Governor Kay Ivey’s office and the Alabama Department of Finance on Wednesday referred questions about prison construction costs, costs for mental health programs and staffing needs to ADOC and legislative leaders.
An email response from ADOC said these questions were relevant but “premature”.
“As we look to the next special session, our goal remains to support the governor’s office and the legislature in passing this critical bill,” said Kristi Simpson, spokesperson for ADOC. “We will continue to answer any questions they ask us, provide background information and data as requested, and participate in their ongoing discussions as appropriate.”
The chronic shortage of state personnel within ADOC has been well documented in federal court, along with a mandate to increase employment.
New prison designs and technologies will mean new sites may have a lower warden to inmate ratio than existing prisons, Clouse said. Albritton said the new sites will primarily be cells, not the large dormitories that house more than 100 inmates in many current prisons.
Ivey’s official special session appeal will outline exactly the bills lawmakers pass in the special session that begins Monday. This call is expected to be released Thursday or Friday.
Alabama Pardons and Parole Office Director Cam Ward said the appeal will likely include additional credit for the state to purchase and manage the currently empty and private Perry County Correctional Facility. .
Earlier this week, the Alabama Daily News announced Ward’s plan to transform the Perry County site into a BPP-run site that will eventually include rehabilitation and education opportunities for inmates.
Ward and other heads of state met with the owners of the GEO Group site this week to negotiate a purchase.
“It was very productive,” Ward told DNA. He describes the future site as a “real processing center type facility”.
Ward and Albritton both said the state may be able to buy the site for nearly a quarter of the asking price of $ 60 million the legislature envisioned almost 10 years ago.
The bill next week will begin in the House and Clouse and Albritton on Wednesday were positive about its chances of passage.
“I think we’ve done so much work on this issue over the last four months in particular,” Clouse said. “This has been verified. Lots of different shots have been put forward and this one seems to be the one that hits the sweet spot. “
Still, there will be some opposition, including those who want to protect communities in their neighborhoods with existing prisons that are likely to close. Some would probably say that the planned men’s prisons are too big.
Ward, who has previously served in the Senate and passed prison reform and construction bills, said the 4,000-bed sites are modeled after what pennsylvania did.
“This is where we kind of got the plans years ago,” he said. Several years ago, that state opened a 4,000-bed facility then described as the largest on the east coast.
Ward said the new prisons would give the state space for more prison programs, but would not affect overall capacity.
“You’re really building for programming and to replace the old ones, but you’re not building a lot more space,” Ward said.
A previous plan to lease men’s prisons to private developers would have made it possible to build 3,000-bed facilities.
Albritton said the state has the land to accommodate 4,000-bed prisons, the utilities to support them and the flow of funding to make them happen. He said state prisons will be of the same design as those offered by private builders.
“The price to pay for bringing in an additional 1,000 men was not much higher,” Albritton said.
The bill provides for the closure of four men’s sites which currently have a total of around 3,500 inmates. Five other sites could be closed or reassigned in the future.
Also expected in the call are at least a few criminal justice reform bills that cleared the House the last session by death in the Senate. Rep. Jim Hill, R-Moody, said he would be ready with all four bills, but not all of them could fit in the appeal.
Phase two of the plan includes a new women’s prison and renovations to others. Clouse said the new 1,000-bed women’s prison, also located in Elmore County, has an estimated cost of around $ 200 million.
“The renovations at Limestone and Donaldson are also in the same range,” Clouse said.
He describes a “pay as you go” type system with a renovation fund in which the legislature allocates funds to finance phase two projects. A third male prison is possible, in years, by law.