Bentley seeks $800 million to build 4 new prisons

JailMONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) – Gov. Robert Bentley said Tuesday that he will ask lawmakers to approve an $800 million bond issue to build four large prisons to replace the state’s aging and crowded correctional facilities.

Bentley said the state has made progress in overhauling its troubled prison system and with, “four new and modern prisons, Alabama is poised to be a national leader in safe and effective incarceration of inmates.

“We cannot move our state forward without addressing the issues that have plagued the prison system for decades,” Bentley said.

Most current state prisons would close under the proposal. The new three men’s prisons would house at least 3,500 inmates each. A new women’s prison would have a capacity of 1,200 beds. The new women’s prison would replace the Tutwiler Prison for Women. The state agreed to make changes at Tutwiler after the Department of Justice found that inmates had been subjected to a systemic harassment and abuse.

The governor first proposed the massive construction project in his State of the State address on Feb. 2. The locations of the new facilities have not been determined.

State prisons hold nearly twice the number of inmates they were originally designed to house.

Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn said current prisons built decades ago are expensive to maintain and upgrade with modern security features.

The proposed legislation will ask lawmakers to approve the $800 million bond issue and change bid law so design and construction work can be awarded through one contract. The bill is expected to be introduced this week in the Alabama Legislature.

Bentley has said he believes the Department of Corrections can pay for the bond issue out of savings.

The governor says he hopes to begin construction in 2017 and have the prisons open within three years.