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Ivey signs expensive 30-year lease agreements to build two massive prisons

In a highly anticipated move, Governor Kay Ivey signed on Monday two 30-year lease agreements that will see to the construction of two new large men’s prisons in Alabama, an enormous financial outlay, and the latest step in dealing with a longstanding issue for the state.

Ivey has faced criticism from members of both political parties in recent days over the secretive manner in which she commissioned the projects and the financial terms of the deal. The governor has insisted the way she negotiated the leases was the only way to secure the best deal for Alabama, which she maintains she has done.

The information released by the governor’s office on Monday said the final lease costs would be no more than the promised limit of $88.6 million per year when figures are adjusted to the projected inflation rates of Fiscal Year 2022.

“Leasing and operating new, modern correctional facilities without raising taxes or incurring debt is without question the most fiscally responsible decision for our State,” remarked Ivey in a release on Monday.

Reporting by ALDailyNews over the weekend showed internal Ivey administration figures that had the total cost of the prison proposal exceeding $3 billion dollars, with annual payments starting at $94 million and increasing each year.

Ivey, and her administration’s Department of Finance, claim the savings recouped by closing several other smaller men’s prisons will be enough to pay for the opening of the mega-facilities. The governor has repeatedly cited this tactic, which she says prevents the raising of taxes or taking on of new debt through bonds, as one of the main features of the lease agreements.

Inmates are expected to arrive at the facilities in 2025, which would trigger the start of the state’s lease payments and the closing of the other smaller and older prisons. Ivey has formed the Alabama Prison Repurposing Commission to determine the proper next steps for the old prisons.

Both leases signed Monday are most directly with the prison construction company CoreCivic, which joined with three other construction companies to incorporate two LLCs in Delaware. Each lease agreement signed by Ivey is, in official terms, with the two respective LLCs.

One of the prisons, termed the “Elmore County Facility” by Ivey, will be built on Rifle Range Road in Tallassee and have a focus on providing medical and mental health services. It will be built by the CoreCivic led Government Real Estate Solutions of Central Alabama, LLC. The full agreement can be accessed here.

Another prison, the “Escambia County Facility,” is set to be constructed on Bell Fork Road near Atmore. Ivey signed an agreement with the CoreCivic aligned Government Real Estate Solutions of South Alabama, LLC for the construction. The full lease agreement for the Escambia prison can be accessed here.

Ivey’s office said Monday that the final lease costs would be publicly released once the deals with CoreCivic are financially closed.

The Elmore County facility is expected to begin construction as soon as the deal is closed, with construction on the Escambia County prison slated to follow in 2022.

Ivey’s office says both prisons should be finished in 2025, a timetable they claim allows for the usual delays that come with large construction projects.

Under the terms of the deal, CoreCivic would build, own and be responsible for the maintenance of the facilities over the next 30 years, which are expected to provide around 7,000 beds between the two locations.

Ivey’s previously announced Alabama Prison Plan includes a third major new prison to be built, this one in Bibb County, by a group called Prison Transformation Partners. Ivey’s office relayed on Monday that negotiations were ongoing with regards to that facility.

A timeline of how Ivey’s prison construction proposal has unfolded is available here.

Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) would staff and have operation control over the sites. The Ivey administration emphasized on Monday this would mean the soon to be constructed facilities are not private prisons.

The lease agreements faced criticism from State Representative Chris England (D-Tuscaloosa) on Monday, who called it a “terrible idea.” England focused part of his critique on one part of the plan, saying, “After spending over 3 billion dollars, we won’t own the land or the prisons. At the end of the lead agreement, we are going to have to decide whether or not to purchase them or pay whoever owns them to continue to maintain them.”

State Representative Matt Simpson (R-Daphne) tweeted an agreement with England’s low opinion of Ivey’s deal. Alabama Auditor Jim Zeigler, a Republican and frequent Ivey critic, has also voiced disapproval of the plan.

The governor’s office said on Monday that “options to extend the State’s occupancy beyond the 30-year team are included” and noted that after 25 years, ADOC has the right to inspect the facilities and determine whether to terminate or extend the lease. Ivey’s staff says state law prevents the Department of Corrections from owning the facilities.

Legislative leaders such as House Speaker Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia) and incoming State Senate Majority Leader Clay Scofield (R-Guntersville) have both offered a willingness to engage with Ivey on her plan, and both thanked her for taking action.

Spurring the need for change in Alabama’s corrections system is the reality that the State of Alabama is currently facing a lawsuit by the federal government that alleges the conditions in Alabama’s men’s prison facilities violate the U.S. Constitution’s protections against cruel and unusual punishment.

If left unchanged, Alabama could see its prison system taken over by the federal government and would then be forced to implement whatever fixes federal authorities determined to be necessary, no matter how costly or unpleasant.

Ivey’s office reminded the public on Monday that when the federal government took over California’s prisons, they forced the release of thousands of inmates.

The governor’s office has made publicly available a “fact sheet” with information about the lease agreements.

“It is no secret that, due to decades of inaction and a lack of resources, our correctional system is at a crossroads. Thanks to Governor Ivey’s vision, tenacity, and leadership, we have reached an important step in our continued work to chart a transformative new course for the Department,” asserted ADOC Commissioner Jeff Dunn on Monday.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@new-yhn.local or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

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