Alabama should put the brakes on the proposed prison construction project under the current circumstances
March 1, 2017 | View PDF
1. The current bill under consideration circumvents the State's bid law.
Generally, public contracts fall under Ala. Code Section 41-16-20 et seq. applies to any state department, board, commission, institution, corporation, authority or office. For a detailed explanation on the many facets of the bid law, one can review on line article by Mary E. Pons, Association of County Commissioners of Alabama, titled Alabama's Competitive Bid and Public Works Law, 2016. Criminal penalties are authorized for violations. The RFP (Request for Proposal) section of the bill simply lacks transparency. Section 41-16-72 provides for professional services with little oversight and less accountability.
2. Sufficient existing State lands and facilities.
Prisons are located on large tracks of land already positioned for expansion. At one time this land was used for farming and now may be repurposed to fit existing demands of prison population growth. For example Holman Prison and Fountain Correctional Center, located off of AL Hwy 21 in Escambia County, sit on 8,200 acres of land with a structural footprint of less than 500 acres.
3. Cherry picking locations for other than legitimate purposes.
Senator Dick Brewbaker represents Elmore County which has five facilities in or near the County. His opposition to the bill rests in part due to Governor Bentley's refusal to identify where the proposed mega prisons will be located. Under the current cloud the Governor finds himself, even the appearance of impropriety by favoring a politically connected location, could result in criminal investigation and an economic disaster for those counties that took the risk in placing a prison in their jurisdiction in the first place.
4. There will be no operational savings to the proposed consolidation.
The argument has been floated that by constructing four of five mega prisons, it will, in the long run, reduce operational costs by personnel efficiency, elimination of continued repairs and upgrades and the current low interest rates making bond issues attractive to State agencies. Senate Brewbaker saw these same promises when the consolidation of law enforcement under the ALEA was proposed. He has seen those promises broken. In reality, costs for ALEA has increased. The $800 million bond issue will cost the State approximately $50 million a year for 30 years without a clear method of repayment other than those cited above, (Ref Alabama Prison Transformation Initiative, Information Paper, 2016).
5. New proposed prisons will not eliminate overcrowding.
Figures reflect that the current prison population is approximately at 180% of capacity. Federal action is looming that will force the State to raise taxes to solve this ongoing problem. But the proposed bill even at its best interpretation, will still have a prison population well above federal guidelines. This admission may be found in the Information Paper cited above, p 8. At best, after man years of construction, the prison population will drop to 125% after five years of occupancy.
A number of other legitimate concerns can be cited, and the Gazette will expand on these points in our next issue as well as suggest some practical and fiscally responsible alternatives to the overcrowding of 30,000 plus inmate population, the same size population as Prattville or Phenix City or Vestavia Hills.
What could these areas do with $800,000,000 ?
Please call your legislator and express your opinion about this important issue facing the citizens of Alabama.