Proposal for New Alabama State Prisons a Priority at Regular Sessions

By Rachel Leber

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The plan to build four new Alabama state prisons was a top priority for legislators at the 2017 Regular Session on Sept. 1. Legislation for the bill was proposed on Aug. 29 by Cam Ward, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee in Alabama, and delivered to the State House the day of the session, relatively unchanged from last year’s version. The proposal comes as a response to the extreme overcrowding, poor mental health conditions and understaffing at the existing state prisons.

Robert Bentley, governor of Alabama, plans to build these new prisons through the use of an $800 million bond issue, an idea proposed by the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC). This bond would save the state approximately $50 million each year in operational savings, which would be enough to pay the bond off over a 30 years period without further funding required.

Plans for the four new facilities include three new men’s facilities and one for women. If built, the new men’s prisons would house up to 4,000 inmates each, replacing 13 of Alabama’s 17 existing and out-of-date correctional facilities. The new 1,500-bed women’s prison would replace the Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka, Ala. This plan was originally created by Jeff Dunn, ADOC commissioner, with Bentley now carrying the torch for the project.

This project was brought to last year’s Regular Sessions on the last day, but several concerns held the bill back from moving forward, including the selection of the bidding and construction process. The updated plan that was brought to the meeting on Sept. 1 calls for the use of a design-build construction method, wherein one entity would be chosen to both design the facilities as well as construct them.

The idea of design-build has been met with some concern by several legislators, due to fears that the plan would be less transparent and the possibility of “no-bid” that could come from it. However, those backing the method are certain it would save the state money and yield better results all while maintaining an open bid process, by ensuring maximum communication between designers and contractors, according to Ward in a recent interview with the Alabama Political Reporter. “With the proposed plan, public ‘requests for proposals’ would still be advertised to solicit proposals for the state’s two-step, qualifications-based, best-value selection process,” said Ward. “Any company can submit their qualifications and a proposal.”

The best proposal that yields the best value for the state would be selected, according to ADOC.