Potentially, one of the big losers should Gov. Kay Ivey’s lease-build prison plan become a reality, which is now on life support after losing an underwriter, would be Sen. Billy Beasley’s (D-Clayton) 28th state senate district.
Beasley’s district includes Barbour and Bullock Counties, home to three of what are deemed to be Alabama’s 15 major correctional facilities. If the three mega-facilities proposed for Bibb, Elmore and Escambia Counties were built, the state would tentatively close other facilities, including Bullock Correctional Facility near Union Springs, Ventress Correctional Facility near Clayton and Easterling Correctional Facility near Clio.
During an interview with Mobile radio FM Talk 106.5’s “The Jeff Poor Show” on Monday, Beasley acknowledged shuttering those facilities would have impacts on the economic and utility infrastructure, which could have consequences for the quality of life of his constituents.
However, he also insisted the Ivey administration’s approach of using mega-prisons to solve a decades-long dilemma, which now has the attention of the U.S. Department of Justice, was misguided.
“[I] never have been for building new prisons,” he said. “Big mega-prisons, I just don’t think that is the way to go. A friend of mine, who was the mayor of Clio several years ago, Jack Pelfrey, he is no longer mayor — but he did an extensive study of the facility that was built in Pennsylvania. It was a mega-prison. The study revealed really the most important thing to me — that the smaller facilities are safer. We have small facilities in Alabama. Of course, they’re not as safe as they need to be, but my emphasis has always been on let’s recruit the best correctional officers that we can, and we need to pay them more.”
“I think you can do that with the existing facilities,” Beasley said. “You can certainly have a strong security system that’s electronic. I just think that’s the thing to do. On top of that, in every area — I know the facilities in my area, we have an abundance of extra land that we don’t have to go find more property. I’m just concerned by the escalation in cost. How are we going to be able to afford — you know, they started talking about leasing, maybe $85 million. Now I think it is closer to $100 [million] or maybe more. Every estimate that I read — that it appears to me the cost is going to be higher than anticipated. I don’t know. My theory all along has been let’s renovate the facilities that we have because I’m going to tell you — you build a house, you’re going to have maintenance problems. If you build a new mega-facility for the prison, you’re going to continue to have maintenance problems.”
The Barbour County Democratic lawmaker said Ivey had been responsive to his concerns but remains committed to new prison construction.
“I have met with Governor Ivey on several occasions since she has been governor, pleading my case,” Beasley added. “I don’t know — hasn’t been very successful. Her response is we just need to build new prisons. But I just don’t believe that’s the answer. I think we need to do something about sentencing. I think they had a bill this last week wanting to reduce the charges on marijuana. Well, it failed in the Senate. A lot of the offenses are drug-related. I think we need to do a better job on educating our young people and folks that are involved in the drug area, which is a major concern. Probably the majority of the offenses in the state are drug-related.”
@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and the University of South Alabama, the editor of Breitbart TV, a columnist for Mobile’s Lagniappe Weekly, and host of Mobile’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. on FM Talk 106.5.