MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The Alabama Department of Corrections and Gov. Kay Ivey on Friday signaled a renewed interest in prison construction as the state opened bids for a “project management team” to oversee the construction of new prisons and the renovation of existing ones.
A department statement said it is seeking a company to develop a master plan for building new prisons and renovating others.
“It is clear that we have serious infrastructure needs within our prison system, and we need to make decisions on correcting these issues. Today we are taking a large step toward doing just that,” Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn said. “This plan will provide a blue print for long-term fixes.”
The Alabama prison system has come under fire for overcrowding, violence and understaffing. It is also under a federal court order to improve the quality of mental health care for state inmates.
The request for proposals stated the team also will provide management services “for the construction, renovation and rehabilitation of correctional facilities under the Department of Corrections.” The state wrote that the goals of the project included: construction of new male correctional facilities to replace aging and outdated facilities; renovation of existing prison facilities; and the renovation or construction of health care facilities.
The prison system had previously proposed building four new “mega-prisons” and closing most existing facilities, arguing that consolidation savings would pay for the construction cost. The measure failed to win legislative approval as lawmakers raised concerns about the price tag of construction and job losses when existing prisons closed
State Sen. Cam Ward, who had sponsored the construction legislation, said he thought hiring a management team was the first step in an alternate approach in which the state would lease prisons built by third parties. He said that would not require legislative approval.
“They are basically going ahead with the construction without going through the Legislature,” Ward said.
A spokesman for Ivey said the Department of Corrections was trying to gather options.
“They are trying to come up with a plan and put options on the table,” said Ivey spokesman Daniel Sparkman.
Ward said he supported the idea of building new prisons.
“You are going to have some sort of construction, like it or not, unless you do some sort of mass release” of inmates, said Ward, R-Alabaster.
A lawyer representing inmates in the ongoing lawsuit over mental health care said the state should focus on repairing existing facilities and increasing staffing levels.
“More prisons and more beds are not the answer in the short or the long term. They waste taxpayer money, fail to solve our immediate challenges in the prison system, and do not make our communities safer,” said a statement from Maria Morris, senior supervising attorney at the Southern Poverty Law Center.