MONTGOMERY — Lawmakers are walking away from a proposal for the state to build three prisons and instead want local communities to build them.
Bill sponsor Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, said Tuesday the new legislation addresses lawmakers’ concern about the state’s debt and locations of new prisons.
Senate Bill 302 will let the Alabama Department of Corrections enter into lease agreements with local public authorities to finance and construct up to three regional prisons.
“It’s a cooperative district, so it may be three or four cities, two or three counties go in together to do it. That’s how they’re able to come up with the bonding capacity to do it,” Ward said.
The regional prisons would have to house at least 3,500 inmates and cost at least $100 million.
One of the sticking points in the previous legislation is DOC officials haven’t said where the prisons would be located.
“This gives everyone a say — if they really want it to stay in their community. It gives them a chance to compete for it,” Ward said.
The facilities would be leased to the DOC for the term of the bond. The annual lease is capped at $13.5 million, and the facility would be deeded to the state once the bond is paid.
If local authorities agree to build two prisons, the state also can build a facility for a maximum of $225 million. The bill allows the state to borrow $350 million, but $125 million would be used for renovations and maintenance at existing prisons, including the women’s facility, Tutwiler.
Ward said the new legislation could be in the Senate Judiciary Committee today and on the Senate floor Thursday.
Sen. Larry Stutts, R-Tuscumbia, is on the Senate Judiciary Committee. He said Tuesday he’s not ready to sign off on Ward’s new bill.
“I want to make sure that there’s a fair opportunity for small, rural counties to be in the mix, to locate a prison there,” Stutts said. “I can envision that Jefferson County could out-duel Marion County for a prison.”
He’s also concerned that the local entities won’t receive as good an interest rate as the state, which would increase costs.
If a prison costs $225 million, a quarter of a percent difference on an interest rate is a lot of money, Stutts said.
According to Ward, the DOC would be required to operate no more than six men’s prisons unless the prison population exceeds 125 percent capacity.
Alabama has about 23,000 inmates in facilities built for 13,318, which puts the department at 173 percent capacity. Three inmates have been killed this year, and a correctional officer was fatally stabbed last year.
Last week, Alabama's Senate Judiciary Committee approved a slightly less ambitious prison construction plan than the $800 million proposal that has been the priority of Gov. Robert Bentley. Bentley has wanted four new mega prisons.
A comment from Bentley’s office wasn’t available because the bill was still being reviewed.