Gov. Robert Bentley’s $800 million prison construction plan:

Posted 5/12/16

Alabama’s prisons have come into focus as one the state’s most urgent problems with the possibility of interdiction by the federal courts looming on the horizon.

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Gov. Robert Bentley’s $800 million prison construction plan:

Posted

The TimesDaily of Florence on Gov. Robert Bentley’s $800 million prison construction plan:

Alabama’s prisons have come into focus as one the state’s most urgent problems with the possibility of interdiction by the federal courts looming on the horizon.

Like so many of Alabama’s problems, money — or the lack of it — is at the root of the problem.

Gov. Robert Bentley is proposing spending $800 million to build four new prisons that would hold 4,000 inmates each, and a new women’s prison. He would close the state’s existing 16 aging and overcrowded prisons. But a bill that would do that died Wednesday in the closing hours of the 2016 legislative session.

Many lawmakers, including a significant number in the Republican super majority, have their doubts about the governor’s plan. They want to know about financing, design and construction, all of which appear nebulous at this time.

Bentley said he has not given up on his plan, and will consider a special session this summer to try again to pass it, and to address the BP oil spill settlement, which could provide some of the gap in funding for the state’s ailing Medicaid program.

Before calling a special session, Bentley has some salesmanship to do before lawmakers — and the public — buy into his plan. And it will have to be more than a sales pitch; he must spell out how the plan will work and who will perform the work.

Bentley said the consolidation of prisons, among other things, will result in savings that will pay for building the new prisons. That, likely, is true, but the savings would be felt some years later.

The governor’s plan needs much more scrutiny than it has received. There are no plans on the drawing board; no real discussion of financing has taken place; and no locations for the new prisons have been revealed.

That latter point is a bone of contention for a number of lawmakers whose districts contain state prisons.

The prisons are economic engines for many rural areas, providing jobs and other economic activity legislators don’t want to lose in a state still struggling to recover from the Great Recession.

As matters stand today, less than a week after the end of the legislative session, it does not appear the governor has enough support to pass his prison plan. Until he has laid all the cards on the table and answered questions, a special session would be a waste of time and money.

— The TimesDaily