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Lawmakers want details of Ivey’s prison lease plan

By KIM CHANDLER, Associated Press

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Some Alabama lawmakers on Wednesday questioned Gov. Kay Ivey’s plan to lease three new mega-prisons, saying they want to see more financial details on the plan before the administration signs the agreements.

The governor’s administration plans to lease three mega prisons that would collectively house a total of 10,000 male inmates — more than 3,000 per prison — and close many existing prisons. The governor’s office has not disclosed a final cost but said the developers are aware of an “affordability limit” of $88 million per year.

Two lawmakers raised concern about the proposal during budget hearings for the Department of Corrections. They said lawmakers deserve to see more information including numbers on the claim that the state can pay for the leases with savings generated by consolidating prisons and reduced maintenance costs.

Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn said he expects there will be an announcement on the leases “very soon” but declined to give a timeframe.

Republican Rep. Rich Wingo of Tuscaloosa told Dunn that because lawmakers will be responsible for any funding shortfall, they need to know more information about the plan.

“Since we are responsible for the people’s money, I am just asking you and your help before we move forward with a signature on a lease with these two developers,” Wingo said. “I think this committee deserves to know what the return on cost really is for the developers.”

Republican Rep. Arnold Mooney of Indian Springs said lawmakers are, “really in the dark in what’s going on.”

“Hopefully, you are correct, and I compliment you on how hard you are working on it, that you’ll be able to pay for everything through savings,” Mooney said.

Mooney said the closure of existing prisons will impact the economies of local communities.

Dunn told reporters afterward that he appreciated lawmakers’ concerns.

“We have been working with legislative leadership in providing information. The negotiations are confidential because we are dealing with two separate private entities so there’s an element of that,” Dunn said.

Republican Rep. Steve Clouse of Ozark, who chairs the budget committee, said, “there are a lot of questions that the Legislature would like answered.”

Clouse said lawmakers have been told that 11 to 13 existing prisons would close, and that the savings would pay for the leases of $88 million per year. But he said lawmakers would like to see more details, such as who will own the prisons at the end of the leases.

“Our hands have been tied not being able to see what the plan actually is. So basically we are eager to see that,” Clouse said.

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