Senate approves $800 million prison construction bill

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In the wake of impeachment chatter and a gubernatorial override, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley had a welcome win Tuesday night when the Alabama Senate approved his plan for an $800 million prison construction bill, despite objections from both sides of the aisle over a lack of debate on the issue.

After voting to close debate on the issue after only a half hour, the Senate voted in favor of the Alabama Prison Transformation Initiative Act, 23 to 11.

Initiated by Bentley and Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn, the plan would fund four large new prisons and includes closing most of the existing prisons. As of the end of 2015, the state’s prisons were crammed to about 180 percent capacity.

“Today is another significant step in the effort to address the prison issues, as the Senate cleared a critical hurdle in transforming Alabama’s decades-old prison system through the Prison Transformation Initiative Act,” said Bentley in a statement after the vote. “I commend the Senate for taking a bold and decisive step toward prioritizing public safety in our prison system with the construction of four new prisons.

“The passage of this bill will help reduce overcrowding and will provide safer conditions for corrections officers as well as inmates within the facilities. New facilities will also create greater opportunities to reduce the risk of recidivism. As this legislation moves to the House, I look forward to working with House members to pass the Prison Transformation Initiative Act.”

Bentley has said he hopes to begin construction in 2017 and have the four prisons open within three years.

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