Bill to build new prisons stalls in Alabama Senate

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The Alabama Senate briefly discussed the Alabama Prison Transformation Initiative Act Wednesday, but ultimately shied away from taking a vote on the issue before adjourning for spring break. Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) ended debate on the subject after Senate Democrats voiced concerns over the measure.

SB287 from Sen. Trip Pittman (R-Daphne) is the legislative arm of the ambitious call from Gov. Robert Bentley to systematically overhaul Alabama’s overcrowded prison system. The bill calls for the demolition of all but two of Alabama’s 16 prisons and requests $800 million in bonds to pay for the construction of four new facilities.

The plan raised the ire of state contractors, engineer and architects in earlier committee hearings because of the bill’s call for a design/build method, which opponents say will end up excluding many state builders. Further concern was raised over the use of a 1-mill tax to back the bond issue. The tax currently goes to help fund the Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs and the Alabama Department of Human Resources.

Democrats voiced concern over the bill because it raises prison capacity but does nothing to reduce the number of state prisoners. However, a prison reform bill passed last year, which is only beginning to show results, would  reduce Alabama’s prison population.

The new bill championed by Bentley would increase capacity by about 3,000 beds and is said to pay for itself through savings seen in transportation, overtime pay and other areas.

The bill will likely return to the floor once senators return from spring break April 5.

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