By Faye Gaston
On Thursday, September 10, 2020, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey announced that the state would lease three privately built "mega" prisons that would begin construction in 2021.
The three mega prisons would house a total of 10,000 inmates, more than 3,000 per prison. The state would close, or repurpose, eleven existing prisons. Would Bullock County's Correctional Facility be closed?
Governor Ivey said leasing these prisons would end expensive maintenance costs on aging prisons and would provide modern security systems and safer facilities, allowing more room for treatment and education programs. Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall praised Governor Ivey for "tackling head-on the toughest issue facing our state."
The plan calls for prisons to be built in Bibb County in west Alabama, Escambia County in south Alabama, and Elmore County in central Alabama. The state would staff them with state officers.
The lease plan bypasses the usual way of securing legislative approval to borrow money to build state buildings. Twice these bills failed among fighting over which districts would lose existing prisons or get new prisons, and the jobs that come with prisons.
The Alabama prison system has faced a litany of federal criticism. It is considered one of the most violent and understaffed systems in America.
The U.S. Department of Justice believes Alabama houses male inmates in unconstitutional conditions for both a pattern of using excessive force by officers and excessive inmate-on-inmate violence. In 2017 U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson ruled that the state's treatment of mentally ill prisoners was "horrendously inadequate" and ordered improvements in staffing levels and care.
The plan Governor Ivey announced has received criticism from advocacy groups and a mixed reception from state lawmakers.