Alabama Sen. Arthur Orr expects negotiations with Gov. Ivey on new prisons, special session

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DECATUR, Ala. — The June 1 deadline for closing a deal on private financing for new state prisons in Alabama has come and gone without a deal.

Gov. Kay Ivey’s plan to build three large new men’s prisons through private funding – with the state agreeing to lease the prisons for 30 years — appears dead.

That still leaves the question of what Alabama is going to do about its overcrowded, dilapidated prisons. Governor Ivey said Wednesday pursuit of the lease deal is over and she’s working with legislators to find a new way forward.

“Prisons have been in ill repair for decades,” Ivey said. “They’re long past serving their time. So we’ve got to build new prisons, start rehabilitating our prisoners, not just warehousing them. That’s a major effort, working with the legislature, we’ll make this project happen.”

Alabama Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, who chairs the Senate Budget Committee, spoke with News 19 today. Orr said Gov. Ivey has opened doors for talks with legislative leaders, something he said wasn’t the case for the past several months.

“The legislature by and large has been very skeptical of the leaseback plan of Gov Ivey,” Orr said. “The legislature, by and large, has been a proponent of the traditional, ‘you sell bonds, you bid a prison, and then you construct a prison and the state owns the prison.’”

Orr expects negotiations with the governor will begin soon, possibly paving the way for a special session.  He said that’s driven by the U.S. Department of Justice suing Alabama, alleging the state’s prison conditions violate the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

“As soon as we, the governor and the legislature, reach an agreement,” Orr said.  “Yes, I think we need to go ahead and have a special session.

“Primarily because of the Department of Justice. You know we’ve got several lawsuits hanging over our heads, and we’ve got to show the federal government that we do mean business. And that the governor’s plan did not work out, and that we are coming together as a governor and a legislature and we’re going to solve this – and address this problem in the Department of Corrections by constructing new facilities.”  

Orr also believes prison construction funded by Alabama can be done at a lower cost than the governor’s 30-year lease proposal.

“I think we can certainly do it cheaper, if we take care of it in-house,” Orr said. “We build it on property we already own. We’ve got sites today, with capacity on them, as far as acreage …right where they are, where we own, 1,000 acres, and the prison is only on 40 acres of it.

“So we’ve got plenty of room, to build state facilities on state-owned land.”

Alabama House Speaker Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, told News 19 today, that talks between his office, leaders in the state senate and the governor’s office have started. McCutcheon said he expects that to continue over the next several days.          

Orr thinks the special session could take place in August.

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