Governor Kai Ivey has agreed to lease two gigantic prisons as a partial solution to the state’s troubled rectification system, despite objections from some lawmakers and advocates who warn that her $ 3 billion plan will not solve chronic violence and severe understaffing problems.
The governor has signed two 30-year lease agreements with separate entities of CoreCivic, one of the largest private prison companies in the country. Prisons will be built in Thalassi and near Atmour. The governor’s office is negotiating with another company to build a prison in Bibb County.
While President Joe Biden has ordered the federal system to eliminate the use of private prisons, these facilities will only be built and owned by private companies. They will be operated by the state Department of Corrections and will be employed by state employees. The CoreCivic’s two prisons will accommodate 7,000 inmates.
Ivy described the new prisons as a “cornerstone” for improving the troubled state system and replacing old, hard-to-maintain prisons. Once built, all three prisons could properly house about half of the current prison population in Alabama.
“Renting and operating new and modern reform facilities without raising taxes or incurring debts is undoubtedly the most financially responsible decision for our country, and the driving force behind Alabama’s solution to the Alabama problem,” her statement said. “We are working to improve public safety, provide better living and working conditions, and accommodate the rehabilitation of prisoners while protecting the immediate and long-term interests of taxpayers.”
Some lawmakers and advocacy groups disagree, complaining about the cost of its plan and lack of transparency, and they warn that new buildings alone will not solve problems.
“Alabama is on the verge of spending $ 3 billion over 30 years building new prisons that won’t solve problems within our prison system,” Rep. Chris England, a Democrat from Tuscaloosa, tweeted. “Also a reminder, after paying the money, at the end of 30 years, we will not own the buildings or the land they sit on.”
The US Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against Alabama in December over prison conditions, saying the state had failed to protect male prisoners from inmate violence and excessive force at the hands of prison staff.
Rep. Steve Close, who chairs the House Budget Committee, said he was disappointed. Close said lawmakers expected the lease contracts to cost about $ 88 million annually, but information from Ivey’s office indicated that the annual cost would rise from $ 94 million to $ 108 million, totaling about $ 3 billion over 30 years.
The governor’s office did not disclose the financial details and said the total cost would become available “once financial close with CoreCivic is achieved”.
Close said he urged the governor to issue a bond so that Alabama could build and own prisons.
Previous legislation failed amid political disputes over closing existing prisons and the local jobs it provided.
A group of advocacy organizations said that paying such huge sums to the CoreCivic would not solve the underlying problems of staff shortages, violence, mismanagement and overcrowding. They are advocating instead for solutions like reforming provisions to ease congestion behind bars.
The American Civil Liberties Union in Alabama, the Anti-Prison Students in Alabama, the Ordinary Peoples Association and others have written in a letter to lawmakers.