By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. - The list of companies vying for the state’s $900 million contract to build three large prisons is down to two.
Gov. Kay Ivey this week announced a two-week extension of the deadline for submitting responses to the state’s request for proposals. In that announcement, two companies were listed: Alabama Prison Transformation Partners and CoreCivic.
In November, four developer teams qualified to receive the request for proposals. First, GEO Group, a private prison company based in Florida, dropped out of the proposal process. Now, New Jersey-based Corvias is out.
The Alabama Department of Corrections told Alabama Daily News that companies dropping out of the competition is normal in such a large and complicated project.
"Participating in the procurement process requires significant investments from the developer teams; therefore, it is a typical part of the process for teams to withdraw if they recognize the delivery method is not an ideal match for their business model," ADOC spokesperson Samantha Rose said.
Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, is the Senate authority on prison reform and construction efforts. He said he thinks it’s the “strenuous requirements” in the RFP that are causing companies to pull their names.
“I think, coronavirus or no coronavirus, some companies are saying they just can’t do it,” Ward said.
The original request for proposals published by ADOC last December leaves the door open for multiple companies to be selected for the project. The current deadline was moved this week from April 30 to May 14.
“I’m not convinced that (the state is) not going to have to revisit this and put out another RFP, or even another (request for qualifications),” Ward said.
However, ADOC Commissioner Jeff Dunn said the state had "two strong developer teams" participating and that the department is fully committed to selecting developers from the current process.
Dunn said the threat of the new coronavirus has only further demonstrated the need to build new prisons quickly.
“Crowded conditions within the Department’s dilapidated facilities create increasingly challenging circumstances to ensure inmate and staff health and safety," Dunn said. "Gov. Ivey and the ADOC are steadfastly committed to the strategic effort to build three new men’s correctional facilities, which will allow us to implement actionable solutions that address long-standing challenges facing our prison system.”
According to Ivey’s office, the decision to extend the proposal submission deadline was made after discussions with the two participating developer teams about the prohibitive impacts they are experiencing as a result of COVID-19 social distancing guidelines.
Ivey and the Alabama Department of Corrections want to hire private companies to build the three new prisons which would then be leased back to the state and run by the ADOC. Ivey has said the state can spend $78 million a year leasing the prisons and pay for it by closing most of the state's existing prisons.
The contract, or contracts, will be awarded later this year.
Separately, the ADOC is increasing its contract with Birmingham-based Hoar Program Management, a consultant on prison construction and renovations, by more than $5 million. The total contract, which began in 2018, is now worth up to $18.5 million. The addition was approved Thursday by the Alabama Legislature's Contract Review Committee.
Also approved was an ADOC legal contract for up to $200,000 with Maynard, Cooper and Gale for “environmental legal services on an as needed basis relating to real property and facilities owned by the ADOC, and future projects as they arise.”
Corrections also sought an increase to a separate contract with the same firm for its representation in threatened litigation from the U.S. Department of Justice investigations into the state’s mens’ prisons. That contract will now be up to $500,000.
In February, Ivey's proposed General Fund budget included a $42 million increase for prisons that would mostly go toward increased staffing and inmate health care. Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn told budget writers he hoped to use the money to recruit a total of 700 new security staff members. A federal judge last year ordered 2,000 additional correctional hires by 2022 and the U.S. Department of Justice has threatened a lawsuit over inmate care and conditions.
However, the Legislature has postponed its 2020 session until April 28 with the option to postpone it even further, and leaders in the House and Senate have said planned budget increases are unlikely due to the outbreak's likely negative impact on state revenues.
Ivey spokeswoman Gina Maiola said discussions between the governor and lawmakers about the session and budgets are ongoing.
“The governor continues to have discussions with Legislative leadership as this situation evolves,” Maiola said. “The goal is to pass essential budgets — both the General Fund and Education Trust Fund — until we know for sure how our state revenue looks. If necessary, to pass critical legislation or to allocate more funds after we have a good idea of what the state return revenue looks like, the governor has said that she is not opposed to calling a special session or more to address these needs in late summer or early fall.
“All state agencies have necessary functions that benefit Alabama citizens. ADOC is no exception. Improving Alabama’s prison system is a top priority of the Ivey Administration and continues to be. The hope — as is always the case — is to fund each agency as best we can with the finite amount of resources available to the state.”