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ADOC spending up to $16M for outside legal help in prison lawsuit 

By CAROLINE BECK and MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

The Alabama Department of Corrections’ contracts with two law firms helping with its ongoing lawsuit over the state’s prisons are now worth up to $16 million.

The two contracts were extended Thursday at the legislative contract review committee meeting. The contract with Balch and Bingham in Birmingham is now worth up to $5 million; the contract with Maynard, Cooper and Gale in Huntsville is now worth up to $11 million.

On behalf of a group of inmates, Southern Poverty Law Center sued in ADOC in 2014 over the conditions within the prisons and lack of medical and mental health care. That lawsuit has highlighted staffing shortage issues within ADOC. State leaders this week said the department has graduated 405 new guards this year, but court documents show a need for nearly 2,000 more.

“Sixteen million dollars is a lot of money,” contract review committee chairman Sen. Greg Albritton said Thursday. “… So, yeah, there is a concern there, but the question is, are we making any progress?  In the last two years, I think we’ve put $70 million (additional dollars) into corrections. We’ve got 400 more employees. We’re able to move from a 12-hour work shift to an eight-hour work shift.  Some show progress but when you’re looking at a lawsuit that continues and continues and continues, we’re spinning our wheels. We need to get this resolved and it’s not just going to take our efforts.”

The prison issue, including crowding, will be a legislative priority when lawmakers begin their 2020 legislative session in February.

“We need to start gathering data on what progress we’re making or not making,” Albritton, R-Range, who also chairs the Senate General Fund budget committee, said. “We need to figure out if what we’ve done is helping or not helping and then evaluate from there. But we can’t just keep putting in money, we’ve got to find out what it’s actually doing.”

Gov. Kay Ivey is seeking bids from four companies for the construction of three large prisons to replace most of the existing facilities.

Census campaign contract worth up to $3M

Alabama is spending money to make sure residents get counted in the 2020 census.

Birmingham’s Big Marketing and Communication has a contract up to $3 million for a marketing and outreach campaign to promote the census.

Earlier this year, the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs initiated an $1 million contract with Big. The funding was a 40/60 split in state dollars and administrative fees collected by the department.

“In our efforts to achieve maximum participation in the 2020 Census, ADECA in October requested $2 million in additional state funding to support the overall statewide census outreach effort,” ADECA spokesman Mike Presley told Alabama Daily News. “The amended contract would total $3 million. Much of the efforts will be focused on the mid-March to May period to encourage Alabamians to self-respond to the census with a portion of the funds to be targeted in the summer in those areas of the state where participation may be lower in order to increase awareness and participation.”

Big is working on a communications outreach campaign for Alabama Counts 2020 Census, a committee formed by Gov. Kay Ivey in 2018. Several state agencies and leaders, including Ivey, are stressing the importance of each Alabamian being counted in next year’s Census. Federal funding for a multitude of programs, and perhaps a Congressional district, depend on it.

“I just left a meeting on reapportionment,” Rep. Chris Pringle, R-Mobile, said Thursday at the contract review meeting. “It is very important that we get a good count.  I would like to see 80 percent (of people) filling it out. We need 80 percent of people to fill it out to keep all seven congressional districts.”

In 2010, the response rate to the census was 72 percent, according to Alabama Counts.

Separately, Ivey this week announced $1 million in Legislature-funded grants to 34 agencies and organizations to promote and encourage participation n the 2020 Census.

“I cannot emphasize enough the importance of what a full and accurate count in the 2020 Census means for Alabama,” Ivey said in a written statement. “Those numbers have a direct impact on billions of dollars in funding that affect schools, community programs, health care, job opportunities and just about every other aspect of our state.”

The Alabama Counts website cites a study by George Washington University that says the U.S. government sent almost $1,600 to the state in 2015 for every Alabamian counted in the 2010 census.

Company will review charter school applications, provide annual reviews

The Alabama State Department of Education has a new year-long contract for $98,300 with School Works, LLC, a company that works with state departments of education in assessing the quality of their education practices.

A representative from the department told the committee that School Works will review applications for any new charter schools and also conduct annual reviews of each charter school in the state.

The findings of those annual reviews would then be submitted to the Alabama Public Charter School Commission.

Charter schools are publicly funded but operate outside the traditional structure of public schools. According to the 2015 law that allows them in Alabama, their applications must be approved by either local authorizing boards or a state commission.

Currently there are four public charter schools operating in Mobile, Birmingham, Livingston and Montgomery. Two more are scheduled to open in 2020.

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