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Ivey prison plan announcement expected soon

Gov. Kay Ivey is preparing for a major announcement in the coming days about her plan to lease three new men’s prisons from private developers, multiple sources told Inside Alabama Politics this week.

Since May, Ivey and the Alabama Department of Corrections have been in a “confidential proposal evaluation period” with two companies that will buy land, finance the large prisons and then lease them back to the state. The location of the new facilities that will be major employers is a much-anticipated announcement.

In July, ADOC Commissioner Jeff Dunn assured lawmakers that the department would be able to pay for the new prison leases with savings left over from closing current dilapidated, crowded prisons that require greater staff and maintenance expenses.

“It is not our intent to come to the Legislature and ask for a plus-up in our allocation (in the General Fund budget) to pay for these leases,” Dunn said then.

The ADOC has said it will not spend more than $88 million a year on the 30-year leases.

Some lawmakers have questioned that expense if the state won’t ultimately own the prisons.

Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, said the state funding the prisons itself through bond issues would be the cheaper route, but lawmakers have failed in recent years to get such a proposal through the Legislature. Ward has sponsored multiple bills for new state-owned prisons.

“The Legislature failed so miserably to do it ourselves,” Ward said. Prison plans in the State House crumbled, at least in part, over fights about where the new prisons would be located and what current prisons would close.

“We have shown time and again we can’t do it, politically,” Ward said.

Now, Ivey is moving forward with a plan that doesn’t need legislative approval.

The two developers are Alabama Prison Transformation Partners, a partnership of multiple companies including BL Harbert International, and CoreCivic.

Dunn in July said completion of the new prisons is two to three years away.

Ward said he thinks Ivey has been transparent about her plan first announced in early 2019, that they’d be privately built and leased to the state.

“I think she’s been very open and up front about it,” Ward said.

“She is not asking the Legislature for an additional dime, she’s not asking for an additional appropriation,” Ward said. “She’s doing it by closing the older, outdated prisons instead of putting all your money into repairs.”

Ward said he expects some continued pushback from some lawmakers, but by the time the 2021 legislative session begins in February, “this plan will be well down the road.”

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