Alabama gov seeks 3 private built mega prisons, names sites

FILE - In this July 29, 2020 file photo, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey speaks during a news conference in Montgomery, Ala. Ivey announced plans Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020 to move forward with state leasing of three privately built mega prisons that would begin construction next year, in what she described as a step toward overhauling an understaffed and violence-plagued prison system beset by years of federal criticism. (AP Photo/Kim Chandler, File)
FILE - In this July 29, 2020 file photo, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey speaks during a news conference in Montgomery, Ala. Ivey announced plans Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020 to move forward with state leasing of three privately built mega prisons that would begin construction next year, in what she described as a step toward overhauling an understaffed and violence-plagued prison system beset by years of federal criticism. (AP Photo/Kim Chandler, File) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Alabama's governor announced plans Thursday to move forward with state leasing of three privately built mega prisons that would begin construction next year, in what she described as a step toward overhauling an understaffed and violence-plagued prison system beset by years of federal criticism.

Gov. Kay Ivey announced the Alabama Department of Corrections would enter into negotiations with two development teams including Nashville, Tennessee-based private prison giant CoreCivic and Alabama Prison Transformation Partners, a group including state-based construction firm BLHarbert, on developing the three new prisons. The state would lease the facilities and staff them with state officers.

The governor's office did not disclose the estimated cost but said “final financial terms” will become publicly available later this year and construction would begin in 2021. Spokeswoman Gina Maiola said the developers are aware of an “affordability limit” of $88 million per year. She said the three mega prisons would collectively house a total of 10,000 male inmates— more than 3,000 per prison. The state would close, or repurpose, 11 existing prisons.

The Ivey administration has pitched the plan as a smart solution to Alabama's longstanding prison woes.

“The Alabama Prison Program is vital for the long-term success of our state and communities ... we must rebuild Alabama’s correctional system from the ground up to improve safety for our state’s correctional staff and inmate population, and we must do it immediately,” Ivey said.

The governor said the arrangement would end expensive maintenance costs on aging prisons while providing modern security systems and safer facilities allowing more room for treatment and education programs. But the plan has run into criticism from advocacy groups and a mixed reception from state lawmakers, with some saying the leases will be costly without addressing systemic problems.

Considered one of the most violent and understaffed systems in the country, the Alabama prison system has faced a litany of federal criticism.

The U.S. Department of Justice said twice within 18 months that it believes Alabama houses male inmates in unconstitutional conditions for both a pattern of using excessive force by officers and excessive inmate-on-inmate violence. U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson, who ruled the state's treatment of mentally ill prisoners was “horrendously inadequate ” on Wednesday, ordered outside experts to monitor the state's compliance with his orders to boost staffing and improve conditions.