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New commission to study state’s prisons for future uses

By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

A new commission will evaluate the state’s existing prisons to determine which should remain operational and which could be repurposed for future use by the Alabama Department of Corrections, another state agency or sold for private use.

Gov. Kay Ivey on Tuesday used an executive order to create the Alabama Prison Repurposing Commission.

Ivey and the Alabama Department of Corrections are currently negotiating with two private developers to build three large men’s prisons. Up to 11 yet-to-be identified current prisons around the state will be closed. There are 13 now, though large portions of one, Holman Correctional Facility, were closed earlier this year because of extreme dilapidation.

“The Alabama Prison Repurposing Commission will provide recommendations based on in-depth facility analysis considering both the impact on the state and local community as well the financial ramifications to potentially repurpose or decommission some of our current prison infrastructures,” Governor Kay Ivey said in a statement Tuesday.

According to Ivey’s office, the Alabama Prison Repurposing Commission will present a detailed report which will include recommendations for the future of each existing male prison facility. It will be presented to Ivey and legislative leaders on or before Sept. 1, 2023, or 90 days after completion of the third new prison.

The state will lease the facilities and staff them with state officers. Ivey has said the state will not spend more than $88 million a year on the new prisons, money she said will come from the cost savings of closing out-of-date and aging facilities. 

Earlier this month, Ivey said the plan calls for Birmingham construction giant B.L. Harbert to build a prison in Bibb County in west Alabama and CoreCivic to build prisons in Escambia County on the Florida line and another in Elmore County in central Alabama.

The closing of current prisons has been a contentious topic in the State House in recent years, largely because they are significant employers and revenue sources for the communities where they’re located.

This is not the first time the existing facilities have been studied. In early 2017, the ADOC-commissioned analysis of 17 facilities statewide showed a multitude of problems, including fire safety and electrical system reliability, the Decatur Daily reported.

The roughly 1,100-page report highlighted the worst problems at each prison and made a case for then-Gov. Robert Bentley’s proposal to borrow $800 million to build four mega facilities.   

Concerns raised by the report included that Limestone Correctional Facility had “lost confidence” in some of the locks that keep inmates confined and that no facility has fully functional fire alarms. 

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