MONTGOMERY, Alabama – Gov. Kay Ivey plans to call lawmakers in Montgomery for a special session on the construction of the prison on September 27, she told them in a letter Friday.
“As I have said before, now is the time – this legislature and this administration – to lead our state in a bipartisan fashion to solve a problem that has plagued us for decades and which, if not. treated properly, will continue to set us back for decades to come, ”Ivey wrote in the letter.
Only the governor can call a special session of the Alabama legislature and she has said the official call, with details of what can be dealt with, will come next week.
Legislative leaders have met with the Ivey team and officials from the Alabama Department of Corrections since early summer to draft a bill that has circulated among lawmakers this month. The latest plan allows the state to borrow up to $ 785 million and use several hundred million federal COVID relief funds to build at least three new prisons and renovate others.
Senator Greg Albritton, R-Range, attended these summer meetings.
“There have been a lot of hands in this pie, and there has been a lot of people and a lot of interest, trying to find the way to get here,” said Albritton, chairman of the Senate General Fund budget.
“We are able to resolve most issues – conditions, space, training – and we leave that open for monitoring and review. And we have the means. We found the money to make it work.
The bill will start in the House, sponsored by Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, and if approved, it will be carried by Albritton to the Senate.
Management counted the votes this week and Albritton said support was there in both chambers.
“But nothing is certain until the votes are taken,” he said.
Clouse told the Alabama Daily News that as of Friday he was confident he had the votes to pass the bill in the House.
“Things can change and arguments always come up, but at the end of the day we have to come out of the session with a solution to this problem because time is running out,” Clouse said.
Alabama’s overcrowded and crumbling prisons have been a problem for decades, and federal pressure for state action has reached such a point that most lawmakers agree they need to do something about it. Several leaders involved in recent conversations say the legislature is now as close as ever to consensus on the issue.
Senator Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, said he believed the bill was “on track” but still had certain areas which he said needed further debate and possible amendments. This includes ensuring that the tendering process for work on large prisons is open and includes minority companies.
He also said addiction treatment and mental health care, as well as reintegration programs, must be a priority outlined in the bill.
“We need to have a holistic approach, not just bricks and mortar,” he said.
Advocates for the new prisons have said updated and safer facilities will allow for better education and treatment of inmates.
Pro Senate Speaker Tem Greg Reed R-Jasper said the draft proposal was budget conservative.
“The stakes are high – without acting on this issue, the federal government could take control of our prison system at a high cost to Alabama taxpayers, and could even result in the forced release of prisoners,” Reed said in a written press release. “It’s time to finally fix this problem for the people of Alabama.”
The draft released last week calls for a phased plan that includes:
Phase I: two new 4,000-bed men’s prisons in Elmore and Escambia counties;
Phase II: A new 1,000-bed women’s prison in Elmore County and renovations or demolition and reconstruction of existing prisons in Jefferson and Limestone counties and in Barbour or Bullock counties;
Phase III: When Phase II is nearing completion, the Alabama Department of Corrections will conduct “an assessment of male correctional facilities based on a current assessment of facilities and prison population trends to determine if additional beds must be replaced ”.
The bill also allows for the purchase or rental of the Perry County Correctional Facility. The private prison is currently empty.
The bill would allow the state to borrow up to $ 785 million. The annual debt service on the bond would be around $ 50 million, according to a summary document obtained by ADN.
Extraordinary sessions are limited to 12 legislative meeting days spread over a maximum of 30 calendar days. While Ivey selects priority bills, lawmakers are free to introduce their own legislation, but it requires a two-thirds majority to pass.
Daily news reporter Caroline Beck contributed to this story.