The solution to Alabama’s prison problems could involve the private sector.
Alabama Department of Corrections officials earlier this month announced plans to hire a management team to develop a master plan for the state’s prison infrastructure.
The plan would address construction of new prisons, renovation of existing facilities, and improving the mental health treatment facilities in those prisons.
ADOC Commissioner Jeff Dunn said the goal is to develop a “blueprint for long-term fixes to this generational problem” of prison overcrowding.
The announcement, which marks a shift in the state’s ongoing attempts to address its prison problems, comes on the heels of Gov. Kay Ivey’s comments that her office was considering all options for building prisons.
Frustrations have mounted the past two legislative sessions as efforts to get lawmakers to borrow up to $800 million to build three new regional prisons failed. The megaprisons would have replaced 13 of the state’s smaller, older prisons.
ADOC’s new plan could allow private companies to build and own the prison facilities, and allow the state to lease the facilities from private operators. Ivey has said short-term lease agreements to operate prisons would not require legislative approval.
Last week, several area lawmakers acknowledged they expect Ivey and ADOC to include lease options in any prison proposals brought to the Legislature during the 2018 session. And while they may not have to sign off on any lease agreements, lawmakers do have final say on the overall funding of prisons.
Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, said lawmakers need to see the details of any building or lease plan involving prisons.
“Because we’re going to be funding prisons, I think there should be some involvement by the Legislature,” Orr said.
ADOC officials can’t be faulted for trying to be proactive when it comes to improving the prison system. Corrections leaders have supported the proposed prison construction plans of the past two sessions, but the inability to get legislative support suggests it’s time to consider a different approach. Injecting private-run prisons into the discussion should get the attention of lawmakers.
“It is clear that we have serious infrastructure needs within our prison system, and we need to make decisions on correcting these issues,” said Dunn.