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Montgomery, Alabama – Alabama has abandoned previous plans to privatize prisons, and Gov. Kay Ivey and lawmakers celebrated Friday afternoon as the governor signed legislation authorizing the state to spend $1.3 billion on two new 4,000-bed men’s prisons. A smaller women’s prison and upgrades to some existing prisons are planned for the future. According to Ivey, building new prisons is the legally, fiscally, and morally correct course of action as the state addresses its prison crisis.
Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Corrections Jeff Dunn attended the bill signing and expressed optimism that the bills would address concerns raised by the United States Department of Justice’s lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Alabama prison conditions.
Additionally, he stated that meetings will begin next week to discuss the start of construction on the new prisons.
The bill signings concluded Ivey’s week-long special session. Earlier in the day, the Senate approved House Bill 4 by a vote of 29 to 2, authorizing the state to borrow up to $785 million in bonds to construct two new prisons in Escambia and Elmore counties and renovate existing facilities in a phased plan.
The Senate vote was a bipartisan victory for Ivey and other top lawmakers, in contrast to the House, where the measure was opposed by the majority of Democrats. Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Range, sponsored the construction bill and defended it against criticism, stating that the measure will help Alabama’s prison infrastructure problems.
The bill’s supporters have stated that portions of it are continuations of plans and vetting under a previous prison lease agreement. The bill enables the state to circumvent certain standard bid selection processes. Clouse defended his decision not to redo the bidding process for construction companies after the House adjourned on Friday. He stated that eliminating the bidding process would ultimately save the state money and enable them to begin construction more quickly.
The Hamilton Aged and Infirmed Center was removed from the list of facilities to be closed following a committee amendment. Additionally, the amendment specifically names the Bibb Correctional Facility as one of the prisons to be evaluated for possible repurposing during phase III of the plan.
The plan currently calls for the closure of the Staton, Elmore, Kilby, and St. Clair facilities following the construction of the two new men’s prisons.
Additionally, the Senate passed two appropriation bills authorizing the use of $400 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds for prison construction, $135 million for prison maintenance, and the acquisition of the Perry County facility.
“Addressing our decades-long prison infrastructure challenges is not easy, but sometimes, doing the right thing and the hard thing are one in the same. This is not a victory lap because there is more legislative work to be done this week; this is the halfway point for the prison construction bills. I am extremely proud of the members of the Alabama House of Representatives for their hard work and support. Chairman Steve Clouse has proven instrumental in crafting the bills, moving them through committee and carrying them on the floor. The work done today will help lead to solutions that will greatly benefit all Alabamians for decades to come. I offer my sincerest thanks to the members, and I continue to offer any resource needed in the next few days to get this across the finish line.”
– Gov. Kay Ivey
Two Constructors Most Likely To Be Selected to Build The New Prisons
Two Alabama construction firms may be in the best position to win state contracts to build the two new men’s prisons authorized by the newly passed bill.
Caddell of Montgomery and BL Harbert of Birmingham were both members of teams expected to build prisons under Gov. Kay Ivey’s earlier plan to lease three new facilities from private developers. Although that plan fell apart in the spring, some legislative leaders assert that Caddell and Harbert have been vetted and the groundwork laid for a swift start to construction.
According to sources, it would be problematic if they attempted to leave and find someone else to bid and construct the new prisons, implying litigation.
The legislation, which was passed last week by the House and Senate Republican and Democratic caucuses, allows the state to bypass normal bid processes for two proposed 4,000-bed men’s facilities in Elmore and Escambia counties. Normally bypass triggers bid litigation and will most likely hear from other contractors if so.
Caddell and Harbert have spent more than a year and a half developing prison plans in response to Ivey’s initial proposal.
Under design-build contracts, a single entity is responsible for both design and construction. In a more conventional design-bid-build process, designers and contractors are hired independently.
While the bill allows Cadell and Harbert to be chosen without going through the normal bid process, they were involved in the months-long request for qualifications and request for proposals processes that began in 2019 as part of Ivey’s lease plan.
According to sources, the proposal would expedite the completion of the two men’s prisons and save the state approximately $75 million by locking in material costs earlier, but material escalations and payroll increases appear unfeasible given current economic conditions.
Most likely if the two companies are awarded these projects they will be required to conform to subcontractor involvement and bidding processes.