Alabama still has no builder for prison a year after $1.3 billion plan approved

Two lawmakers who helped spearhead the plan are concerned about the slow pace of one of the two 4,000-bed prisons


By Mike Cason
al.com

MONTGOMERY, Ala. - One year ago, Gov. Kay Ivey and the Legislature approved a $1.3 billion plan to build two 4,000-bed prisons, a project the governor and lawmakers said would begin to reverse decades of neglect of Alabama’s overcrowded, decaying system.

But since the projects were approved, the Alabama Department of Corrections and the Ivey administration have released little information about progress on one of the two prisons. Two lawmakers who helped spearhead the plan are concerned about the slow pace.

Inmates resting in a dorm in Staton Correctional Facility in Elmore County in September 2013. Staton is one of the prisons slated to close when Alabama completes construction of two new 4,000-bed prisons. But a year after lawmakers approved the new prisons, the state has not yet lined up a builder for one.
Inmates resting in a dorm in Staton Correctional Facility in Elmore County in September 2013. Staton is one of the prisons slated to close when Alabama completes construction of two new 4,000-bed prisons. But a year after lawmakers approved the new prisons, the state has not yet lined up a builder for one. (Julie Bennett/AL.com via MCT)

In April, the state announced a $623 million contract with Caddell Construction to design and build a 4,000-bed specialty care prison in Elmore County. But no builder is in place for a 4,000-bed prison planned in Escambia County.

This week, with the passing of the 12-month mark since the plan was approved, AL.com asked the governor’s office and the ADOC about the status of a contract for the Escambia prison.

They would only say the state is looking for companies to design it.

“The State of Alabama has issued a Request for Qualifications for design services, in whole or in part, for the Escambia Men’s Correctional Facility, as permitted by the authorizing legislation,” the statement said.

Kelly Betts, public information manager for the ADOC, said the RFQ document was not made public “based on the Homeland Security Designation of this project.”

Rep. Steve Clouse, R- Ozark, the Alabama House budget committee chair who sponsored the legislation authorizing the funding and construction, said he would have expected more progress and is seeking more information.

“It’s been disappointing that this hasn’t moved forward on Escambia like we had hoped,” Clouse said. “But Elmore is moving on.”

Sen. Greg Albritton, R- Atmore, Senate General Fund budget chair, said in a text message Wednesday that he is frustrated. Albritton said he did not want to say more until he could meet with state Finance Director Bill Poole and others to learn more about the situation. Clouse said he would be in that meeting, which he said he expected in the next couple of weeks.

Lawmakers approved the plan during a special session in October 2021. The governor and legislative leaders said the new prisons would be essential to fixing a system that the Department of Justice says holds men in unsafe conditions that violate the Constitution. Some of the old prisons will close when the new ones are ready. Alabama has not built a new prison since the 1990s.

The plan relies on $400 million in federal pandemic relief funds from the American Rescue Plan Act to help pay for the prisons, as well as a bond issue and money from the state General Fund. A state authority sold $509 million in bonds in June.

Rep. Chris England, D- Tuscaloosa, has advocated for sentencing reforms, parole board changes, and other moves as ways to more directly address the crisis in Alabama prisons than new buildings. England said the slow progress on the Escambia County prison is a huge concern.

England said the public has grown desensitized to the regular reports about violence in Alabama prisons. There have been two fatal stabbings at Donaldson Correctional Facility since Saturday. Inmates called a work stoppage last week to draw attention to problems and demand changes.

“We have people dying in our facilities,” England said. “We have a strike going on right now where it just exacerbates the problem of no resources, lack of employees and corrections officers, and it also just shines a bigger light on the inhumanity in our corrections system.

“And to think that now we’re probably going to delay building new facilities even longer means that we’re likely to experience even worse conditions, if that’s possible, in our correction system.”

State officials have said the goal is to have the prisons ready to use in 2026.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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