By Rebecca Beasley
Sen. Billy Beasley, who has three prisons in the Senate 28 district he represents in the Alabama Senate, debated the prison construction legislation last week for about an hour and a half. He stressed the importance of keeping Ventress in Clayton, Easterling in Clio, and Bullock Correctional Facility in Union Springs in operation by introducing a substitute bill.
The substitute bill would have reduced the number of inmates from 4,000 to 3,000 in the two new facilities in Elmore and Escambia counties and the number of women inmates from 1,000 to 750 in new women’s facility. It also included $20 million to provide maintenance funds for the prisons. The bill would have meant an overall savings in the amount of $150 million.
The legislation nevertheless gained approval in the House 75-24 and in the Senate by a vote of 27-3 and was signed into law by Gov. Kay Ivey Friday afternoon. Sen. Beasley’s one of his main concern in the act is the language used in Phase II of the projects that calls for the renovation of one existing facility in Barbour or Bullock Counties.
He pointed out that expenses that have been incurred to accommodate construction of prisons in the three respective municipalities. He said income for the Utility Board for water in Union Springs amounts to about $617,000 a year which the municipality can’t afford to lose. Clayton has a bond issue in the amount of about $3 million which is scheduled to be paid off by the Alabama Department of Corrections by the year 2035. “The monthly payment on the bond issue amount is $19,800 per month. Ventress Correctional Facility contributes about 47% of the total revenue received for the Water Department each month which would be devastating to lose,” he said. Clio also has a bond issue incurred to accommodate Easterling Correctional Facility which is paid from the town’s General Fund in the amount of $9,000 a month. This bond, he said, is to be paid off in the year 2042.
“Folks back home told me they want to be assured their town won’t go bankrupt. If they lose 50% of their customer base, it will raise a lot of concern for citizens of those respective towns,” he said. He further pointed out that these three municipalities do not have the resources to bring jobs into their localities.
He pointed out that the three prisons in his district were recruited by the mayors of each of the municipalities - Mayor Ed Ventress in Clayton, Mayor Danny Easterling in Clio, and Mayor John McGowan in Union Springs along with other individuals.
Beasley said Alabama will now be known as the “mega prison state.” Passage of the legislation gives authorization to construct two 4,000-bed men’s prisons to begin early next year. The state will borrow up to $785 million for the two prisons and use $400 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds.
The two 4,000-bed prisons will be constructed in Elmore and Escambia counties. The state is allowed to bypass the normal bid process for general contractors for the facilities possibly awarded the job to Montgomery based Caddell and B. L. Harbert of Birmingham since they were involved in proposals that failed to lease prison facilties.
Once the new prisons are built, St. Clair County prison will close and the 180-inmate Hamilton Aged and Infirmed prison in Marion County, which was originally planned to be close, will remain open. Other prisons scheduled for closure are Staton, Elmore and Kilby. Julia Tutwiler will be closed when another women’s facility is built.
Rep. Chris England of Tuscaloosa, who serves as chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party, summed it up on For The Record stating that the same problems will still exist even after the construction of new prisons.
Funding for the prison plan will be a bond issue of $785 million, $400 million from the American Rescue Plan Act that was issued to the state by the federal government, and more than $150 million appropriated from the state’s General Fund.