By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News
Gov. Kay Ivey and some legislative leaders met Wednesday to discuss possible next steps after the governor’s proposal to lease three new men’s prisons stalled earlier this month.
“No decisions were made today; this was simply an opportunity for an update on where we are and what needs to happen, going forward with respect to improving our prison infrastructure,” Ivey said in a written statement.
Wednesday’s meeting included Ivey, Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn, Senate President Pro Tem Greg Reed, R-Jasper, Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, and the Legislature’s two General Fund budget chairmen. Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, and Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Range.
Officials did not disclose the details of what was discussed, but called the meeting productive and the first of several. Lawmakers earlier this year balked at a nearly $3 billion price tag on the 30-year prison lease plan and said they’d largely been excluded from discussions.
“This was the best, most effective meeting I’ve had with a governor and her staff in this quadrennium,” Albritton told Alabama Daily News, saying it was a “frank discussion without animosity.”
Ivey earlier this year signed lease agreements with developers to build three large men’s prisons. But the builder for two of proposed facilities, Tennessee-based CoreCivic, missed a June 1 financing deadline after losing support from underwriters.
She’s since said that a lease-only route is no longer an option.
Lawmakers this spring signaled to Ivey that they are ready to move forward with a bond issue to address prison infrastructure.
“We don’t have a Plan B or a Plan 2A right now, but we are confident we are going to get there,” Albritton said Wednesday.
Ivey said there will be “many conversations held over the coming weeks which would include more legislators and stakeholders.”
“More than anything, though, there was a strong consensus that we must find a solution to this long-neglected challenge that has plagued our state for so long,” she said about the initial meeting.
Reed in a written statement Wednesday said the governor indicated that she wants to work with the Legislature.
“I look forward to working with the governor and my colleagues in the Senate and House on a solution that will allow our state to move forward with a plan that is good for Alabama.”
Alabama Daily News first reported earlier this month that some lawmakers want to consider using some of the state’s money under the Biden administration’s American Rescue Plan relief money to build or improve prisons. State government’s Rescue Plan funding includes $2.1 billion earmarked for state relief and $192 million for state capital projects fund.
Albritton said Wednesday the Rescue money “holds significant potential for us.”
Albritton has said he’d like state leaders to explore what can be done to improve or expand existing prison infrastructure before a commitment to several new prisons is made. He also said leaders know they must act. The ADOC has an ongoing lawsuit from the U.S. Department of Justice related to conditions and violence in its prisons.
Albritton also said he’s not sure lawmakers will be called back to Montgomery this year for a special session on prisons, but work on the subject will be ongoing.
“We’re going to act like we’re in a sprint, but it may be a marathon,” he said.