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MONTGOMERY – Governor Robert Bentley on Tuesday announced the introduction of the Alabama Prison Transformation Initiative Act. The legislation will provide for the construction of four modern, efficient prison facilities.

“We have made significant progress over the last year to improve our criminal justice system, and with the construction of four new and modern prisons, Alabama is poised to be a national leader in safe and effective incarceration of inmates,” Governor Robert Bentley said. “We cannot move our state forward without addressing the issues that have plagued the prison system for decades. We have a good plan to address the issues and with the partnership of the Alabama Legislature, we can solve the issues and make the Department of Corrections more efficient.”

Many of the state’s current prison facilities were built decades ago. The age and design of the facilities are causing inefficiencies in the operation of the prison system, including increasing costs of maintaining and repairing the facilities, increasing costs of transporting inmates from prison to medical care facilities, increasing correctional and support staff costs because of the geographic disparity of the system and the antiquated design of the prison facilities, and increasing medical costs due to inefficiencies in delivering medical services to inmates.

The purpose of the Alabama Prison Transformation Initiative Act is to reduce overcrowding and improve safety conditions for inmates and corrections officers, allow for additional inmate re-entry programs and to improve operational practices and procedures for the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC). The legislation allows for the issuance of up to $800 million bonds for up to 30 years by the Alabama Corrections Institutions Finance Authority with the debt service on these bonds to be paid from savings within the annual budget of ADOC. The three men’s facilities will be designed to house at least 3,500 inmates. This initiative is part of Governor Bentley’s Great State 2019 Plan.

The legislation is sponsored by State Representative Steve Clouse (R-Ozark) and State Senator Trip Pittman (R-Montrose).

“This prison transformation legislation is yet another example of our commitment to continued efficiency in state government,” Rep. Steve Clouse said. “It will not only save taxpayer dollars, but it also addresses important issues plaguing our prison system. This bold reform measure reinforces our commitment to addressing this matter once and for all.”

“This initiative represents a way to remedy some of the long standing issues with Alabama’s prisons,”  Sen. Pittman said. “We have before us an opportunity to better serve the citizens of Alabama by operating our prison facilities with a higher level of efficiency through consolidation and increased capacity.”

Construction of the three regional men’s facilities and one female facility should begin in the fall of 2017 and is expected to be completed within three years.

“The Prison Transformation Initiative Act creates a new approach to Corrections in Alabama.  By using modern, state-of-the-art design, the new, more efficient, correctional facilities will improve the security and safety of staff and inmates and provide increased capability to offer rehabilitation and re-entry services aimed at reducing recidivism,” Alabama Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn said.

A copy of the legislation to be introduced Tuesday can be found here.

The above news release was provided to WHNT News 19 by Governor Robert Bentley’s office.

WHNT News 19 is still waiting on information about how, or if at all this will affect the Limestone Correctional Facility. At this point, politicians, Department of Corrections officials, and the Governor’s Office tell us they are unaware of any prisons that will close other than the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women.

There are 2,182 current inmates in the Limestone Correctional Facility, which employs 348 people. Its payroll is $15.2 million, according to a Department of Corrections spokesman, and its operational costs are around $37 million.

We received this statement back from Bob Horton with the Department of Corrections when we asked about the Governor’s plan:

The Prison Transformation Initiative Act will allow the Alabama Department of Corrections to consolidate 13 of the 15 maximum and medium custody level male prisons into three 4,000-bed capacity correctional facilities. Two of the 15 male prisons will remain open. Tutwiler will close and will be replaced with a 1,200-bed capacity female correctional facility. Except for the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka, AL, the Department of Corrections has not selected the 13 male prisons that will close, or the two that will remain open.

Limestone County Commission Chairman Mark Yarbrough tells us they’re adopting a “wait and see” attitude and approach. They will act when they find out more details about what the plan is for Limestone County’s prison.

We reached out to the state legislators who represent the district where the prison is located, and have not yet heard back.

WHNT News 19 did speak to Rep. Phil Williams, who told us he knows so much is speculation right now, but he’s just glad the Governor and Legislature are addressing the prison problem. He said he’s looking forward to seeing how they will improve the way the state houses prisoners. He commented that there’s a much larger problem than local politics on this issue, and he’s looking through a statewide lens as opposed to a local one when he thinks about prisons at the moment.