- Associated Press - Friday, May 15, 2020

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey’s administration inched forward with a plan to lease three mega-prisons built by private companies as the Department of Corrections on Friday opened bids from two companies seeking the contracts.

Ivey’s office said they are now in a “confidential proposal evaluation period.” Alabama Prison Transformation Partners, a partnership of multiple companies including BL Harbert International, and CoreCivic were the two companies to submit responses. The governor’s office said the successful developer team or teams will be announced this summer. Her office said financial terms will be announced in the fall regarding negotiations.

The Department of Corrections declined an Associated Press request to make the proposals public, saying that a “confidential evaluation period has begun.” The prison system said the successful developer team or teams will be announced this summer and the financial terms will be announced in the fall regarding negotiations.

“The dire need for new prisons becomes more prevalent and evident with each passing day. It is no secret that our current facilities, which were constructed decades ago, are structurally failing, no longer can safely house inmates, and simply cannot provide the critical, 21st-century programming and rehabilitative services this population desperately needs to successfully reenter society,” Ivey said in a statement.

The signing of a lease, rather than borrowing the money for construction, would bypass the need for legislative approval.

Some legislators have expressed concern over the plan in which the Ivey administration would hire private companies to build the three prisons which would then be leased back to the state and run by the Department of Corrections.

“On prisons we believe the Legislature should be involved in the process when there is the potential for a billion-dollar contract that the taxpayers are going to have to pay for,” said Will Califf, a spokesman for Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh said.

Alabama lawmakers twice debated a similar plan, in which the state would build the prisons rather than lease them, but the measures failed after concerns about closures of existing prisons in legislators’ districts.

Sen. Cam Ward, who had led prison overhaul efforts in the Alabama Legislature, said it would be cheaper to borrow money to build the facilities outright, but noted the political difficulty of getting agreement on closures.

The U.S. Justice Department last year said violent and crowded conditions in Alabama prisons violate the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment. The Justice Department said understaffing and overcrowding were a primary driver of the violence, but also mentioned the need to improve facility conditions.

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