Legislature approves $1.3B prison construction plan
After five days in Montgomery for a Special Legislative Session, legislators on Friday approved a $1.3B prison construction plan. HB4 by Rep. Steve Clouse (R – Ozark) allows the state to borrow as much as $785 million in bonds for the construction of two new men’s prisons in Elmore and Escambia counties, each with capacity for at least 4,000 people. The Elmore facility would have medical, mental health and rehabilitation facilities.
Once the men’s prisons are 60% complete, the bill opens the door to a 1,000-bed women’s facility to replace the 78-year-old Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka, as well as renovations to Limestone and Donaldson Correctional Facilities. It also authorizes the renovation of the Bullock Correctional Facility in Bullock County or the Ventress Correctional Facility in Barbour County. The bill would authorize the closings of Elmore and Staton Correctional Facilities in Elmore County, Kilby Correctional Facility in Montgomery County, and St. Clair Correctional Facility in Springville.
The legislature also approved two appropriation bills to fund the prison construction plan. HB5 by Rep. Clouse will allow for use of $400 million from the American Rescue Plan funds, which can be used to replace revenue lost during the pandemic. The Treasury Department has said the money can be used for infrastructure and to strengthen support for vital public services, and Legislative Services Agency staff believe prison construction falls within those definitions.
HB6, also by Rep. Clouse, transfers $135,000,000 from the General Fund to the Department of Corrections Capital Improvement Fund and $19,000,000 for acquisition and renovation of the existing prison facility in Perry County, which is currently privately owned.
In addition to the construction legislation, the legislature approved one sentencing reform bill. HB2 by Rep. Jim Hill (R – Springville) increases the number of inmates who could be released prior to the end of their sentence and placed under supervision of the Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles. Those released would be subject to electronic monitoring and would be given non-drivers license IDs.
Another reform bill, HB1 also by Rep. Hill, did not get a vote due to lack of support from Republicans. It would have made retroactive a 2013 law to allow nonviolent offenders to be eligible for re-sentencing pursuant to the state’s current presumptive sentencing standards. Rep. Hill has said he plans to pursue the bill in the 2022 regular session.
Governor Ivey called the Special Session to address prison construction and reform because the Department of Justice sued the state over its prisons in December 2020, saying the conditions violated prisoners’ Eighth Amendment protections against cruel and unusual punishment. Losing the lawsuit could put the state’s prisons in receivership. That would mean court orders on any number of issues within the state’s correctional facilities. The state already faces court orders on staffing and mental health services. Supporters of the legislation approved this week believe it will lay the foundation to address these various problems within the system.
Upcoming legislative schedule
The House and Senate adjourned the Special Session on Friday afternoon. Another Special Session is expected in late October or early November to address redistricting of legislative, Congressional, and state school board districts.