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Ivey asks lawmakers to develop plan to fix ‘urgent’ prison problems

There are around 3,000 state inmates being housed in county jails because the state has no...
There are around 3,000 state inmates being housed in county jails because the state has no other place to put them and this is only one consequence of Alabama’s prison problem. Tuesday, Governor Ivey sent a letter to lawmakers calling attention to these challenges that drive home the governors point that the prisons need to be fixed, urgently. And she says this is a word she doesn’t use lightly.(WSFA)
Published: Sep. 8, 2021 at 7:33 PM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - There are around 3,000 state inmates being housed in county jails because the state has no other place to put them, and this is only one consequence of Alabama’s prison problem.

Tuesday, Gov. Kay Ivey sent a letter to lawmakers calling attention to these challenges that drive home the governor’s point that the prisons need to be fixed urgently. And she says this is a word she doesn’t use lightly.

“As you know, the state of our current prison infrastructure is untenable,” Ivey wrote “Many of our existing facilities face severe space constraints in providing important services such as mental health services, substance abuse treatment, and educational and vocational programs.”

She said with the conditions inside prisons, the state has “accrued more than $1 billion of deferred maintenance costs, and these costs will only continue to compound.”

Legislators say a plan is drafted. It includes building two new men’s prisons in Elmore and Escambia counties and renovating the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women. Once new buildings are ready, the state will reassess what other areas need to be addressed.

“There’s been a significant amount of agreements on things. But you know the old adage about devil and details, that’s a truism. And now we’re working on many of the details,” Sen. Greg Albritton said.

Some politicians say new buildings aren’t enough.

“It’s going to fix the problem of the conditions in the prison, but it’s not going to actually stop us from being overcrowded. And what we need to do to address that issue is really talk about the prison reform” Rep. Kelvin Lawrence said.

There are still disagreements between parties and chambers, however, the point of Ivey’s letter was to try and unify politicians to get a plan passed.

The full letter reads:

“Members of the Alabama Legislature:

It is my understanding that your respective caucuses will be meeting this week to discuss the merits of legislation currently being drafted to address Alabama’s longstanding, yet urgent, prison infrastructure challenges.

I do not use the word “urgent” lightly. We are already under a variety of federal court orders that impose certain mandates, which take critical funds away from hardworking Alabamians and families. And if our prison infrastructure issues are not resolved in a timely manner and the state is unsuccessful in court, our budgets will be even more significantly impacted. As Alabama did in past years, we could once again be subject to government by federal court order rather than government by our own elected officials.

We have the power to avoid this outcome.

As you know, the state of our current prison infrastructure is untenable. Many of our existing facilities face severe space constraints in providing important services such as mental health services, substance abuse treatment, and educational and vocational programs. Experience teaches that one powerful way to reduce crime is to prepare our current inmates for life outside prison once they are paroled or complete their sentence.

More pressingly, many of our facilities have long surpassed their anticipated lifespans, resulting in compounding costs, unexpected facility closings, and unsustainable living and working conditions for both inmates and correctional staff. These conditions harm our critical staff recruitment and retention efforts in which you have diligently invested. Additionally, we have accrued more than $1 billion of deferred maintenance costs, and these costs will only continue to compound.

These challenges did not arise overnight - or even during the past decade. They are not the fault of any one Legislature or any one Administration. Instead, these challenges we face today are the result of decades of neglect.

Now, however, through strong collaboration and hard work from your leadership in the Alabama Legislature - representing both chambers and both parties - you will receive a plan that will go a long way toward addressing these critical, decades-old issues.

Please consider the opportunity we have in front of us. This is our moment - this Legislature and this Administration. I stand ready and willing to actively support you.

We all know this is not an easy problem to solve - if it were easy, someone else would haver done so and we would not be dealing with it today. Now is the time to put politics aside and work together to deliver an Alabama solution to this Alabama problem.

I hope you had a good safe Labor Day weekend. Thank you for all you have done - and continue to do - for the five million people of Alabama we serve.”

Copyright 2021 WSFA 12 News. All rights reserved.