New prisons without AL lawmaker approval? It's possible

Updated: Jul. 21, 2017 at 5:57 PM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Alabama could build new "super prisons" without legislative approval despite lawmakers failing to approve prison plans for each of the last two years.

How is that possible? According to Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, the state could enter into a contract with a company to build the prisons, then the company would lease them back to the state.

"It will still be a state prison, a state run prison," Ward said.

Gov. Kay Ivey said Thursday that "all options are on the table" to fix the prison problems explaining that the state could not afford for the prison system to fall under federal court control.

In June a federal judge ruled the prison system's mental health care was unconstitutional. The state is currently in mediation to find a resolution. The mental health ruling is just one part of a larger lawsuit against the state corrections system.

The ruling focused on mental health care but also mentioned how more space (ie construction) may be needed.

Lawmakers failed to pass prison plans during the last two sessions. There were multiple versions of the plans but usually included a bond issue totaling hundreds of millions of dollars to build new facilities. Alabama could instead try to go another way to build new prisons.

"We've tried this twice, two years in a row, and we failed both times, so I think this is probably much more realistic going this way," Ward explained.

Alabama's prison system is one of the most overcrowded and understaffed systems in the country. While recent sentencing reform has helped, the state prisons still sit at around 170 percent over capacity.

"It's not bypassing the legislature," Ivey said. "They have had two good shots at it, if not more, and the problem still exists. I want to work with the legislature, sure I do, and will but at the same time we have got to explore all options to get this problem solved."

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