Showing posts with label Alabama. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Alabama. Show all posts

Saturday, February 10, 2024

Alabama Department of Corrections seeking over $800 million

By: Ralph Chapoco

Three law enforcement agencies told Alabama legislators Monday they were seeking a total of over $1 billion in funding.

The Alabama Department of Corrections (DOC) is seeking over $800 million from the state. The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) is looking for $159 million. The Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles is seeking slightly more than $100 million.

The Alabama Legislature will ultimately decide how much funding the agencies get, and most do not get their full request.

Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Atmore, the chair of the Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee, noted those requests are higher than they were three years ago, when the agencies asked for roughly $635 million combined.

“I am not trying to cast stones,” Albritton said after the meeting. “I am only trying to do it as a means of education as to how much more money it is taking to do the same old thing.”

While ALEA had the largest increase in percentage terms, DOC made the biggest jump in terms of total dollars. The Legislature budgeted $661.7 million to DOC from the General Fund in 2023. Alabama Department of Corrections Commission John Hamm asked for almost $820 million from lawmakers for the coming fiscal cycle, $158 million higher (24%) than the current year’s budget of $661.7 million.

Bennet Wright, executive director of the Alabama Sentencing Commission, who addressed the joint committee prior to Hamm’s presentation to give members some context regarding the ADOC request, said increased capital costs, increased personnel costs and staffing shortages are  driving up the cost to continuously incarcerate people. Corrections held 20,403 people last November.

“There is a common myth that money travels with offenders in correctional systems, I hear it all the time,” Wright said. “We get 500 people out of prison, and we can save money on the prison system. That is just not true. Most of those costs are fixed costs.”

The DOC spent roughly $145 million in 2002 on personnel, about $240 million in 2012 and roughly $280 million in 2023. Despite that, the number of corrections security staff decreased, going from 3,000 in 2012 to about 1,800 in 2023.

“So, what are some of the things that the state has chosen to do, it has increased correctional officer pay, that has increased,” Wright said. “There has been increases in health insurance over the past 20 years, retirement contributions, et cetera. So, while the officers have gone down, the obligation of the department to pay personnel costs and benefits has increased.”

Vacancies in the department remain. The DOC said in its presentation that 858 of its 3,800 positions (30%), both administrative postings and corrections officers.

Medical costs to address the health care needs for people incarcerated continue to increase, going from $120 million in 2012 to $235 million in 2023.

“I would also point out to people, the state of Alabama was the first state that was taken into federal court on a lot of these issues,” Wright said. “That was 1975. Alabama has been in and out of federal court, whether it is litigation or receiverships oversight, we have new pieces of litigation for the past 50 years. And medical care has been an ongoing thread of a lot of the federal litigation involving our Department of Corrections.”

Hamm said DOC will rely on the construction of a $1 billion men’s prison in Elmore County to improve safety in the department. About 325 people died while incarcerated in Corrections in 2023.

“Every legislator on this dais has received emails about the conditions within our prisons, and the violence within our prisons,” said Rep. Rex Reynolds, R-Huntsville, who asked how a single-cell design could address the issues.

According to Hamm, about 80% of the inmates are placed into dormitories, spaces with rows of bunk beds where inmates sleep. With the new prison, almost 80% of the population will be in cells.

“If I was a correctional officer in this room, with everybody here, it is going to be a little bit more difficult for me to control everyone in this room as opposed to everyone in their own cell and dealing with you all one at a time,” Hamm said.

ABPP requested slightly more than $100 million, an increase of about 14% from the $87.8 million in funding from the General Fund budget for the current year’s budget. About $52 million of that will go toward personnel costs, with another $20.6 million to fund benefits. The next highest item, utilities, fees and services, will be another $12 million.

“I will say this—the support staff, the officers, one thing I will say, these are some of the hardest working people you will ever know,” said Cam Ward, the director of ABPP. “If you have to go out to someone’s house, you know they violated their parole terms, and you have gone into their home, and they know you are coming, let’s just say it is not always the safest circumstances.”

Ward also addressed the number of people granted parole by the Board of Pardons and Paroles. According to the numbers he presented, the rates have fluctuated between 2% and 18%. The rates were lower in the beginning of 2023 at 2% in January and 5% in February. As of December 2023, it was 18%.

“When you only have two members, if it is a split, one to one vote, it is a denial,” he said.

Ward said target rates for parole are less important, the decision must be made with respect to the individuals.

“Realistically, the peak of the parole grant system was in 2016-2017,” Ward said. “Sometimes it got over 50%. I think realistically, you are probably talking about a number closer to 25%-30% considering the population that is inside DOC. However, I would caution anyone who talks about parole grant rates to not use an arbitrary spreadsheet or number system. I have seen too many articles talk about that. I think it is a mistake. I still think you still have to look at it as the individual, and realize the board still has that discretion as to who they grant or don’t grant.”

ALEA is asking for more money from the Legislature as well, about $44.7 million more (39%) than the $114.3 million the agency is slated to receive this year. That money will be spread across equipment and vehicles, as well as a new driver’s license office in Montgomery.

Rep. Brett Easterbrook, R-Fruitdale, said the request was “a little bit hard to understand for me.” He added he wasn’t opposed to the increase but requested a breakdown of the expenditures from the agency to better understand the reason for the increase.

This article originally appeared in The Alabama Reflector on February 15th, 2024.  

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Wednesday, September 27, 2023

New Elmore County men’s prison will cost over $1 billion

Price tag nearly equals the money legislators allocated for two men’s prisons


A state authority Tuesday put a “final guaranteed maximum price” on a new men’s prison in Elmore County at $1.082 billion, nearly equal to what legislators two years ago allocated for two men’s prisons.

The higher price tag – blamed on inflation and changes to spaces in the building – makes the construction of a second prison in Escambia County uncertain. It also throws other projects tentatively approved by the Legislature, including renovations to existing prisons and the construction of a new women’s prison, into doubt.

“We’ve got to move forward and do a good job,” said Rep. Rex Reynolds, R-Huntsville, the chair of the House Ways and Means General Fund Committee, following the meeting of the Alabama Corrections Institution Finance Authority (ACIFA). “I’ve been out to the site, and it literally is a small city coming out of the ground.”

Alabama’s prisons, overcrowded for decades, have suffered a wave of physical and sexual violence that led to a lawsuit from the U.S. Department of Justice in 2020. Gov. Kay Ivey and corrections officials argued for years that new prisons would be safer for inmates and staff, cost less to run, and have space for educational, vocational and rehabilitation programs to prevent people from returning to prisons.

The Legislature in 2021 approved the construction of 4,000-bed men’s prisons in Elmore and Escambia County for $1.3 billion. The legislation also authorized renovations of the Donaldson and Limestone correctional facilities; either the Bullock or Ventress Correctional Facility, and the construction of a 1,000-bed women’s prison to replace Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka, built in 1942.

A meeting of people around a table
 The Alabama Corrections Institution Finance Authority (AFICA) meets shortly before approving a “final guaranteed maximum price” on an Elmore County prison on Sept. 26, 2023. From left to right: Alabama Corrections Commissioner John Hamm; Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Atmore (with back to camera); Rep. Rex Reynolds, R-Huntsville; Bureau of Pardons and Paroles Director Cam Ward, and Gov. Kay Ivey.

The legislation did not provide a dedicated funding source for anything but the new men’s prisons.

The Elmore County facility should include major medical, training and rehabilitation programs. The Escambia County facility would not have programs of the same scale.

Critics of the project argue Alabama’s prison crisis stems from culture, not buildings and say the new construction will not address the culture of violence in the prisons.

Alina Arbuthnot of Maynard Nexsen, which has represented the state in the construction process, estimated Tuesday that costs had gone up by approximately $500 million. Arbuthnot said inflation, including the increased cost of construction materials, had played a role, but additions to the project had also affected it.

“We’ve added interior programming space, as well as vocational and educational space,” she said. “Some other items that were required by court order, as well as making a couple of changes that will help us save money on lifecycle and maintenance over the course of the service life of the facility. Maybe some upfront costs now that should save us annually.”

Ivey, who chairs the ACIFA, said in a statement that the prisons are “critically important to public safety, to our criminal justice system and to Alabama as a whole” and blamed inflation for the price increase.

“We have not built new prisons in more than 30 years, and if it was easy, it would have been attempted by a governor before me,” the statement said. “No doubt this is a major undertaking, but we are pressing on.”

Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund chair Greg Albritton, R-Atmore, said he was “concerned” about the additional price tag.

“I think we started out low,” Albritton said after the meeting. “I think we didn’t go back and revisit what we should have done. That was an error.”

The state is paying for the prison with $400 million in COVID relief money; $135 million in money appropriated from the General Fund, and about $500 million in borrowing. The Elmore County Prison is expected to be completed in May 2026.

The fate of the Escambia County prison and other projects are less certain. Albritton said “we’ve got to find the path,” and Reynolds said legislators would watch the progress of the Elmore County project.

“We’ll have to see on time and on what the market does,” he said. “I think it’s too early to answer that. They will just monitor that until February.”

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This article originally appeared in the Alabama Reflector on September 26th, 2023.  

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Monday, March 21, 2022


"It was a portal through which we collectively, many of us, were momentarily allowed to dream of what the future could look like if this emerging or emergent behemoth of Amazon had more democratic control, if workers had more collective power and more say over their workplaces, over how the economy is run so on and so forth...", Robin D.G. Kelley, October 2021  

words by Charles Brooks

April 2, 2022 UPDATE: According to the NLRB, the recent election results show 993 versus 875 who want to join the RWDSU but due to 416 “challenged” votes – the results cannot be certified.  The results are on hold until the NLRB holds a hearing that, “processes the challenges and any objections the parties may file.

Photo credit: BAmazon photo gallery

Workers at the Amazon fulfillment center in Bessemer, Alabama, are once again engaged in a pitched battle to unionize there.  Although, workers voted last year not to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) “set aside” the election results due to Amazon’s anti-union activities and ordered new elections.  

The workers there now not only have a second chance to make history but to continue the momentum that has already ignited similar organizing activities across the country.  The political and economic implications of a win is so enormous that it is no understatement to say the stakes here are high.