3 regional megaprisons back on table for state leaders

State prisons will be topic of conversation in 2019

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Gov. Kay Ivey and the Alabama Department of Corrections commissioner are considering whether to consolidate Alabama’s male prisons into three regional megaprisons.

ALDOC Commissioner Jeff Dunn said the prison plan is similar to plans in the past, which lawmakers did not approve. Dunn said the current male prisons are beyond their useful lives.

“We cannot renovate our way out of this problem," said Dunn. “It would just be too much money, and we wouldn’t end up with the facilities in that much better shape than they are right now.”

He said the prisons would help with the severe staffing issues the system is facing. Dunn said currently, there are three correctional officers watching 200 inmates.

“As a department we’re on average at 50 percent or below what our required staffing is in all of our facilities," he said.

He said the new prisons would include cameras and smaller rooms to monitor inmates appropriately.

The new prisons would be laid out to house inmates on the outer parts of the facility. The center portion would include communal ares like medical centers, cafeterias and laundry areas.

The ALDOC also plans for one of the regional facilities to be a specialized center for mental health care and inmates with special needs.

“We are going to bring to bare a lot of resources that are spread all over the state," said Dunn. "For instance mental health resources, or those high-need medical inmates that we have that require constant daily medical care. We want to beef up that capability in this facility and consolidate those inmates so that we can bring the resources to them.”

Dunn also said this specialty prison would be able to house inmates with the highest security level that take more than the average resources for “proper confinement.”

The commissioner said three regional prisons like these have not been done before in the United States. The ALDOC hired a project manager and prison experts to come up with a solution for new prisons and said they found this to be a “viable” option.

One way to pay for prisons is through an $800 million bond issue, which would need approval from the legislature. In the past, state lawmakers have shot down the bond issue to build them.

Sen. Cam Ward said the second way to pay for it may not need approval from the legislature. The governor could choose to hire a a private contractor to build the prisons. He said then the contractor could lease the facilities to the state.

Ward said lawmakers did not approve the bond approval in the past for two reasons. The first is the current prisons in regions across the state are job producers. If they close down, it would get rid of job opportunities.

The second reason is lawmakers did not want to borrow that much money. But the commissioner said the department would be able to use the saved money from closing the prisons to pay for the megaprisons.

Currently the prison plan is under contract review. The governor said during her inaugural speech she would release plan details in the coming weeks.

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