Governor Kay Ivey and Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn unveiled a plan to build three new regional men’s prisons, at an estimated cost of $900 million.
"The overcrowding, the understaffing, the violence, the dilapidated facilities, the ability to provide rehabilitation- all of those things wrapped up together define why we have to do this project,” Dunn said.
Dunn and Ivey pitch this plan as a way to make prisons and communities safer and the prison system more efficient.
Dunn says the $900 million price tag can be paid for with savings generated by the updated prisons.
Dunn says savings from more efficient prisons will come from areas like overtime, maintenance, legal fees, transportation and outside medical needs.
He expects savings, over time, to cover the cost.
“We are more convinced now than we were then that we can pay for this with future appropriated money, without the need to go back to the legislature to ask for additional appropriations to pay for it,” Dunn said. “The plan is based on consolidation. Consolidating existing old, outdated, highly costly facilities down to three state of the art, highly efficient facilities.”
One major question remains. How to you pay for the up-front construction cost?
Governor Kay Ivey says all ideas are on the table. That could be a bond issue. It could be a private company pays for construction, and leases facilities to the state.
The state is preparing to release a request for proposal asking companies to submit their ideas.
The method Ivey chooses will determine if she needs approval from the legislature for the building plan.
Dunn calls violence the top issue inside prisons. He says the plan is aimed at reducing violence inside prison walls and outside them.
The Equal Justice Initiative calls Alabama’s prisons the most lethal in the nation. Their report states thirty-five prisoners have been murdered in ADOC facilities in the past five years.
Suicide is also a problem.
Dunn calls the violence rate “unacceptably high.”
“As we pursue getting our staffing level to where it needs to be, that will help us with the issue of homicide and suicide,” he said. “In addition to that, a modern state of the art facility that for instance, has the appropriate level of surveillance, cameras, appropriate site lines of access to inmates, the ability to view and oversee inmates.”
The proposal includes new education and rehabilitation programs for inmates, aimed at reducing recidivism.
Dunn says that will affect safety for Alabama communities.
“Part of the crime that goes on in their community right now is committed by former DOC inmates,” Dunn said. “So to the extent that we can rehabilitate inmates that are going back to communities all over the state so they can come out and have a level of education, have their treatment issues addresses and having some vocational educations to get a living wage job, then it’s going to potentially impact the crime rates in the communities where they live because now they can be taxpaying, law abiding citizens.”
Ivey expects the new prisons to open in 2022. The locations have yet to be decided.