March 5, 2021

Alabama expected to sign deals with private prisons

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey on Monday plans to sign leases for two privately built prisons, an idea that has met with criticism from lawmakers for the cost and lack of public transparency and advocacy groups who say it will not address problems with staffing and violence.

Ivey spokeswoman Gina Maiola said the governor will sign agreements to lease two new men’s correctional facilities to be constructed by CoreCivic, one of the nations largest private prison companies. The governor’s office has said the prisons would be run by the state but the buildings would be leased from the companies.

The governor’s office did not release details, including cost. The original proposal had the state building three megaprisons and closing many existing facilities. The governor’s office has not disclosed a final cost but previously said the developers are aware of an “affordability limit” of $88 million per year. That would equate to $2.6 billion for a 30-year lease.

“We are anticipating her to put pen to paper, and as soon as she does, we will be releasing more details. We hoped it would have been sooner, but we are working as quickly as possible to get the best possible deal for the state,” Maiola said.

Ivey has proposed the construction as a partial solution to the state’s longstanding problems in corrections. The U.S. Department of Justice has sued Alabama for unconstitutional levels of violence.

The move met with sharp criticism from a coalition of advocacy groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama, Alabama Students Against Prisons and the Ordinary Peoples Society. In a letter to lawmakers and others, they said Alabama is getting “swindled” and that new building will not address the underlying problems in the prison system.

“It is astounding that Governor Ivey is prioritizing fiscally irresponsible and devastating contracts for prisons that do not address our most urgent needs as Alabamians,” the groups wrote.

They urged lawmakers to try to stop the prisons. “Throughout the entire process, they have acted behind closed doors, keeping the public and even you—our elected leaders—entirely in the dark,” the groups wrote.

Instead of a bond issue to borrow money to build the prisons, which would require legislative approval, the governor can sign the leases without legislative approval. A group of lawmakers this week urged the administration to give them more information, including the profit margin for companies before signing the leases.

Republican Rep. Rich Wingo of Tuscaloosa said that because lawmakers will be responsible for any funding shortfall, they need to know more information about the plan.

“Since we are responsible for the people’s money, I am just asking you and your help before we move forward with a signature on a lease with these two developers,” Wingo said. “I think this committee deserves to know what the return on cost really is for the developers.”