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Judge hears arguments on Alabama mega-prison lawsuit

Updated: May. 14, 2021 at 8:54 PM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - A Montgomery County circuit court judge heard arguments Friday on whether to dismiss a lawsuit that seeks to stop the progress on Alabama’s multi-billion dollar mega-prison construction plan.

Gov. Kay Ivey signed two contracts with the prison giant CoreCivic in February to build two mega-prisons in Elmore and Escambia counties because Alabama’s current prisons are in terrible condition.

With these 30-year contracts, the prisons will be operated by the Alabama Department of Corrections and maintained by CoreCivic throughout the duration of the lease.

The plaintiffs in the case, state auditor Jim Zeigler, state Rep. John Rogers, Elmore County property owner Leslie Ognburn and pastor Kenny Glasgow believe the lease agreements violate state law and ADOC regulations.

Judge Greg Griffin ruled Friday to dismiss Jim Zeigler’s official capacity claims. The case can still proceed with Zeigler as a plaintiff as a taxpayer.

An attorney for the plaintiffs argued Friday in court that Ivey’s plan will incur debt on behalf of the state.

The plaintiffs unsuccessfully asked the judge to void the lease agreements with CoreCivic and to impose temporary and permanent injunctive relief to suspend the lease agreements.

Ivey and Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn were named as defendants in the case.

Attorneys for the state argued Friday that the lease agreements are legal and do not incur debt on behalf of the state.

Three companies including Barclays, KeyBanc Capital Markets, and the financial corporation STIFEL have withdrawn as underwriters on the project. CoreCivic now faces challenges to secure funding for the prison construction.

Economist Kevian Deravi says this situation could raise the interest rates on the project and ultimately, the overall cost.

“That means that interest cost to the state would be higher than a traditional investment at this point in time,” he explained. The financial terms of the leases aren’t final until this funding is secured.

Negotiations are still underway on a third mega-prison scheduled to be built in Bibb County.

The Department of Justice filed a federal lawsuit in December alleging the dangerous conditions inside Alabama’s prisons are violating prisoner’s constitutional rights. Other DOJ reports cited deadly inmate-on-inmate violence, excessive force by corrections officers and drug use inside the state’s overcrowded and understaffed male prisons.

The Alabama Department of Corrections has previously defended the prison leases with CoreCivic.

The Alabama Department of Corrections conducted extensive due diligence prior to, and in the process of, undertaking this project to ensure the Leases were entered into in accordance with applicable laws”, a spokesperson for ADOC stated . This politically motivated litigation is clearly intended only to distract. Frankly, it is disappointing that these individuals oppose progress and improvement within the State’s correctional system. The ADOC will swiftly respond to these baseless and unsupported allegations, and remains committed to building a more rehabilitative, therapeutic environment for our population of incarcerated people.”

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to clarify Judge Greg Griffin dismissed Jim Zeigler’s official capacity claim, not the entire lawsuit, as was initially reported. We apologize for any confusion

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