- Associated Press - Friday, May 5, 2017

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - The Alabama House of Representatives will resume work next week on a stalled prison construction bill with the aim of building four facilities, including a replacement for the state’s troubled women’s prison, the House speaker said Thursday.

House Speaker Mac McCutcheon said House members are revamping the bill that passed the Senate in March. McCutcheon said the House plan would replace Tutwiler Prison for Women. The state would also lease new men’s prisons built by local communities.

McCutcheon said some House members were adamant that the state should replace 75-year-old Tutwiler if new prisons are built. The state agreed to make changes at Tutwiler after the Justice Department in 2015 said Tutwiler inmates were subjected to an unconstitutional environment of sexual abuse and harassment.

The state spent millions on upgrades there- such as installing cameras and making bathrooms more private - but McCutcheon said there are concerns about yearly maintenance costs and the overall adequacy of the aging facility.

Alabama prisons house 23,074 inmates in facilities built for 13,318, which puts the department at 173 percent capacity. Overcrowding and staffing shortages have contributed to outbreaks of violence. A corrections officer was fatally stabbed by an inmate last year, and three inmates have been killed this year in violence between prisoners.

Former Gov. Robert Bentley first proposed the large construction project, but the measure stalled as an impeachment push geared up against him. Bentley resigned last month amid the legal and political fallout of an alleged affair with a top adviser.

The state’s new governor has said she supports construction legislation.

“I’m hopeful they are going to get a bill done this session. We do need to get some prisons built sooner rather than later,” Gov. Kay Ivey told The Associated Press in a Monday interview.

Sen. Cam Ward, the sponsor of the Senate bill, said building four prisons - along with previously passed sentencing and parole reforms - would take the state down to 125 percent capacity, a level the courts have found acceptable.

The state price tag for the construction could be between $200 million and $800 million, depending on how many the state builds, Ward said.

Lawmakers plan to end the session in two weeks, providing little time for extended debate. Opponents such as the Southern Poverty Law Center have said building more “mega-prisons” is not the answer to crowding and violence.

Ward said he optimistic that the bill will pass because lawmakers know they need to address overcrowding.

“I think there is a lot of momentum,” Ward said.

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