MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Legislative leaders are continuing to discuss prison construction and renovation alternatives, including if pandemic relief funds can be used to offset costs or renovating and building prisons.
Key lawmakers say they expect to continue discussions this month in advance of a possible special session later in the year.
"I think the House and Senate are pretty close to an agreement," said Rep. Steve Clouse, who chairs the House General Fund budget committee. "The vast majority of legislators want to move forward with a bond proposal and for us to own the prisons."
Clouse and Sen. Greg Albritton, who is chairman of the Senate General Fund budget committee, said a topic under discussion is if the state can use federal funds from the American Rescue Plan to offset some of the costs or do renovations. States can use American Rescue Plan Act dollars for a wide range of uses to contend with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Albritton said the state is trying to get clarity on "what can we do with the recovery money."
"How can we use those funds to attack those problems?" Albritton said.
Lawmakers are looking for more options after Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey's plan to rent prisons, which would be run by the state but built and owned by private companies, fell apart because of financing concerns.
In February, Ivey agreed to lease two prisons from separate entities of CoreCivic, one of the nation's largest private prison companies. However, the lease plan hit setbacks with the withdrawal of finance companies that faced pressure from activists to not be involved with private prison firms.
The U.S. Department of Justice has sued Alabama over poor conditions, including excessive violence, in state prisons for men. In a recent filing, the Justice Department said Alabama prisons are no safer than they were in 2019 when federal officials first warned the state of unconstitutional conditions.
However, federal officials have been clear that new facilities will not solve the state's prison woes.
A spokeswoman for Ivey said the governor is continuing to have talks with lawmakers, "as they determine what the options are and what the best route would be.
"She remains firmly committed to solving this decades old problem and plans to see both infrastructure improvements and reforms to the justice system," Ivey spokeswoman Gina Maiola wrote in an email.