MONTGOMERY – The Alabama Legislature has successfully passed a comprehensive prison plan as a first step to resolve issues facing the state’s prison system, which has been placed in the crosshairs of the federal government by way of a lawsuit.
Both chambers of the legislature agreed to pass a series of bills to replace and renovate state prisons as well as implement sentencing reforms and monitoring measures for certain prisoners. Under the governor’s direction, House and Senate leadership rallied their respected caucus members in a bipartisan fashion to pass the multi-bill prison plan.
The phased approach to improve the prison system consists of construction and infrastructure renovations to state prisons. The plan does not expand the prison system or add beds to house additional inmates, but rather replaces current infrastructure to prevent overcrowding. The effort seeks to codify the federal government in its claim stating that the current prison system is in violation of the Eighth Amendment’s protection against cruel and unusual punishment.
The method by which the plan will be funded is made possible by multiple vehicles of appropriation and financing. The plan will be largely be funded by a bond issuance of $785 million, alongside $400 million set aside from the “American Rescue Plan” as well as $154 million to be appropriated from the general fund, totaling $1.3 billion overall.
While presently unclear, legislative leadership is optimistic that the prison plan will place Alabama in compliance with standards outlined by the federal government in its lawsuit against the state.
“I just know that we’ve got a plan now to bring to them,” said House Speaker Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia). “It’s a well thought out plan and it’s for the improvement of our system and welfare of the inmates as well as the safety of the corrections officers and the inmates. Everything that has been discussed has been addressed in these three phased programs. I know if we did nothing, I know what would’ve happened. At this point, at least we’ve got a plan and we’re moving forward to do something.”
When asked if the plan meets standards set by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), the plan’s sponsor State Rep. Steve Clouse (R-Ozark) expressed that while uncertain, he is hopeful the plan’s passage places the state closer to being in step with guidelines.
“No, we don’t know that – no one knows that,” stated Clouse. “It’s been a continuing issue but I think this certainly moves us down the road to being in compliance.”
Clouse also indicated that the state hopes to begin construction of its new prisons next spring.
Upon passing the legislature, the bills were sent to the Alabama State Capitol to be signed by the governor, where Ivey sang the praises of the legislature for uniting to pass a resolution to answer the state’s longstanding prison issues.
I’m extremely pleased to have joined leadership of the Alabama Legislature today to sign a major prison construction bill package. Folks, this is a pivotal moment for the trajectory of our state’s criminal justice system. #alpolitics 1/3 pic.twitter.com/7MTpQHHePr
— Governor Kay Ivey (@GovernorKayIvey) October 1, 2021
Ivey added in a follow-up tweet, “Let me be clear, while more reform of the system can and does need to be addressed in the future – and I am committed to that as are many Legislators – today’s bill signing on the construction part of this issue is a major step forward.”
This story may be updated.
Dylan Smith is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @DylanSmithAL