Lawmakers say special session possible on prisons

Alabama News

FILE – This Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2019, file photo shows a sign that reads, “HELP,” in the window of an inmate cell seen during a tour along with state officials at Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore, Ala. On Monday, April 19, 2021, the underwriter for a project to build two prisons in Alabama announced it is pulling out of the effort. (AP Photo/Kim Chandler, File)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama lawmakers see the possibility of a special session on prison construction this summer as Gov. Kay Ivey’s plan to rent prisons from private companies has been hit by setbacks.

The lease plan faces a June 1 deadline for the companies to secure financing, after which the state or the companies can back out of the deal. House Speaker Mac McCutcheon said lawmakers are working on a Plan B in which lawmakers would consider a bond issue to build new state-owned prisons.

McCutcheon said lawmakers have been supportive of the governor’s plan to lease prisons in which the buildings would be owned by private companies but run and staffed by the Alabama Department of Corrections. But he said it could be time to look at other options

“We’ll continue to be supportive of (the governor), but time is running out now. Those contracts were supposed to be finalized June 1,” McCutcheon said.

“If something is not worked out through the governor’s office then the governor will work with the Legislature to try to come up with a new plan. And if that’s the case I think there is a possibility of a special session.”

Ivey in February agreed to lease two prisons from separate entities of CoreCivic, one of the nation’s largest private prison companies. The plan hit setbacks with the withdrawal of finance companies that faced pressure from activists to not be involved with private prison firms.

The administration signaled it is not giving up on the lease plan yet. Ivey’s office noted the contracts do not dissolve on June 1, although the lease agreements provide a mechanism for either party to terminate the agreements if financing is not in place by June 1.

“Governor Ivey remains focused on moving the Alabama Prison Program forward. As she has done throughout, she remains engaged with the Legislature on this issue. The idea of calling a special session or not is a hypothetical right now,” Ivey spokeswoman Gina Maiola said.

The state faces an ongoing lawsuit filed by the U.S. Department of Justice over excessive violence and conditions in state prisons for men.

In a filing this week, the Justice Department said Alabama prisons are no safer than they were in 2019 when federal officials first warned the state of unconstitutional conditions.

“Since the United States notified the State of its findings, Alabama’s Prisons for Men have remained extremely overcrowded, prisoner-on-prisoner homicides have increased, prisoner-on-prisoner violence including sexual abuse has continued unabated, the physical facilities have remained inadequate, use of excessive force by security staff has remained common, and staffing rates have remained critically and dangerously low,” the amended complaint signed by Attorney General Merrick Garland stated.

Alabama Department of Corrections has said the Justice Department is relying upon “anecdotal narratives” while ignoring the state’s efforts to improve conditions.

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