By TODD STACY, Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – State Finance Director Bill Poole said Alabama is on “sound footing” moving forward with an ambitious prison construction plan that will see some $1.3 billion spent building modern corrections facilities.
Democrats and social justice organizations had protested the Legislature’s decision to allocate $400 million from its first round of American Rescue Plan Act funds to put toward the prison plan, arguing that pandemic relief money shouldn’t be spent on projects not related to the pandemic. However, the state contended that the segment of ARPA intended to make up for “lost revenue” during the pandemic allows for shoring up general government services.
On Alabama Public Television’s Capitol Journal, Poole said the recent signing of a contract to build the first of at least two new prisons is an indication that the state is on solid legal ground.
“We felt like we were on solid legal grounds in every aspect relative to the ARPA funds or else we would not have proceeded in that regard,” Poole said. “We had legal opinions, we checked with the variety of resources that we needed to check with, and so we felt like we were on very sound ground.”
Poole said the U.S. Department of Treasury recently released its final guidance on the use of ARPA funds, which did not contradict the state’s understanding.
“Unless Congress or the Treasury Department changes the rules, then with the rules as they were prescribed and are prescribed, we believe we are on sound footing.”
In April, the state signed a $623 million contract with Cadell Construction to build the first of the new prisons, a specialized men’s facility in Elmore County that will house 4,000 inmates. According to the Department of Corrections, the facility will be equipped with modern mental health facilities and include job training capabilities.
The Legislature and Ivey approved in a special session the borrowing of up to $785 million and the use of $400 million in state American Rescue Plan Act funds for prison construction.
The legislation also called for “design-build contracts,” in which a single entity performs both the design and construction under a single agreement. In the more standard design-bid-build, designers and contractors are hired separately.
Caddell and Birmingham-based BL Harbert were both part of teams expected to build prisons under Ivey’s earlier plan to lease from private developers three new facilities. That plan fell apart earlier last year, but Caddell and Harbert had been vetted and put in the groundwork to quickly move on prison construction, lawmakers said last fall.
Poole said he was pleased with how the process is moving forward.
“I am pleased with the progress hereto fore. The Elmore prison is the specialized prison. So it will have enhanced health care, mental health, educational and workforce training aspects as well. It is the larger of the two anticipated projects, the more complex of the two anticipated projects, the most expensive of the two. I’m pleased we reached a final agreement with he general contractor. I think it is a fair deal in terms of the state’s interest and look forward to starting that project.”