Senators Hear Update on Ailing Prison System
Updated: Jul 24, 2020
Montgomery, Ala. - State senators met in Montgomery today to hear updates on budgets and the on-going reforms within its beleaguered prison system. Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn addressed the Senators with an update on Governor Ivey’s plan to have 3 new men’s prisons built and on-going litigation regarding the lack of correctional officers.
Dunn identified being able to release the bidder’s name and location of the facilities “closer to August than September.” The plan would be for the State to lease the new prisons over a 30-year period from a company without having to pay the significant upfront costs of construction, which would be incurred by the company. But the cost, which has been estimated at $80-90 million a year out of the State General Fund, will not be set as it will be negotiated throughout the fall. Senator Bobby Singleton made the point that over $2 billion would be spent by the State leasing the facilities over the 30-year time frame while never owning the properties. Governor Ivey has the ability to begin construction, but would be reliant on the Legislature to pay the lease each year during the budget process. To that point, Dunn noted that “it is not [DOC’s] intention” to ask for more money than they already are budgeted for the leases.
In previous years, the Legislature has clashed when deciding where to build the new facilities as some districts rely heavily on the jobs and infrastructure a prison provides to the surrounding economy. Governor Ivey using has referenced the Legislature’s failure to come to an agreement as a reason why she is driving the construction plan without much Legislative oversight. Senator Billy Beasley questioned Dunn on the future of facilities that may close as a result of the construction plan. Dunn responded that there could be a “process” where some facilities may be repurposed.
Last month, Representative Chris England told WBHM that Governor Ivey needs to “put someone else in charge” of the troubled prison system as dangerous conditions for both prisoners and prison staff exist in many of the State’s decaying facilities. Dunn reported that DOC is making progress in hiring new correctional officers, reversing a near-decade long decline in staffing. However, US District Judge Myron Thompson has ordered DOC to have 3,326 officers by February, 2022. Currently, DOC has around 1400.