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Judge dismisses suit seeking to block Alabama prison leases

By KIM CHANDLER, Associated Press

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — A judge on Monday dismissed a lawsuit that sought to block Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey’s plan to lease prisons that would be owned by private companies and operated by the state.

Montgomery Circuit Judge Greg Griffin granted the state’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit after rejecting plaintiffs’ claims that the leases are unconstitutional. Among other grounds, the lawsuit contended the leases violate state law because the massive $3 billion expenditure was not approved by the Alabama Legislature and is an unconstitutional debt.

“Specifically, this Court finds that the Leases do not constitute a debt to the state, and therefore are not unconstitutional,” Griffin wrote.

A spokeswoman for Ivey praised the decision and said the governor is committed to getting the facilities built.

“Today’s ruling confirms what we knew all along – this was a frivolous lawsuit with political motivations. The governor continues to pursue solutions to this decades-old problem, and she remains focused on ensuring these facilities are built,” Ivey spokeswoman Gina Maiola said.

Attorney Kenny Mendelson, a Montgomery lawyer representing plaintiffs, said he is reviewing the order. Those who filed the lawsuit are Republican State Auditor Jim Zeigler; Democratic state Rep. John Rogers of Birmingham; Leslie Ogburn, a homeowner near the proposed prison site outside Tallassee; and prisoner rights activist Rev. Kenny Glasgow of Dothan.

The state’s plan also has faced other setbacks, such as the withdrawal of finance companies.

Zeigler said he and other plaintiffs will review the decision and decide this week whether to appeal.

“We will continue our fight to block the prison plan by raising issues that would cause potential investors to withdraw. We believe that investors see the fatal flaws in this plan and will not touch it with a 10-foot pole,” Zeigler said.

The governor agreed in February to lease two mammoth prisons that would house 3,000 inmates each as a partial solution to the state’s troubled correction system. The two 30-year lease agreements are with separate entities of CoreCivic, one of the nation’s largest private prison companies. The governor’s office is negotiating with another company to build a third prison in Bibb County.

The proposed prisons would be owned by the private companies but staffed and run by the Alabama Department of Corrections.

Ivey has said new prisons are a crucial first step to overhauling the state’s troubled and aging prison system and that new facilities will be safer and enable more training and rehabilitative efforts. Critics said the $3 billion plan is unnecessarily expensive and does not address critical issues of training, violence and understaffing.

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