Legislature Voices Concern About Prison Plans, State Agrees to Better Serve Disabled Inmates

Mar 17, 2016

Overcrowding at Staton Correctional Facility in Elmore, Ala.

Governor Robert Bentley’s plan to construct four new prisons is moving on through the state legislature, but not without a few red flags. APR’s MacKenzie Bates explains.

The Senate Budget Committee sent Governor’s Bentley’s prison building plan to the full Senate. The committee approved the bill yesterday in wake of two violent uprisings at a South Alabama prison. Governor Bentley blames the incidents on overcrowding.

Senator Cam Ward says those situations show that the state desperately needs new prisons.

Bentley wants an $800 million bond issue and a bid law change so design and construction can be awarded in one contract. However, some lawmakers raised concerns about the plan as it heads to an uncertain Senate vote.

Sen. Jabo Waggoner says he is worried Alabama firms will be cut out of the work under Bentley's "design-build" plan.

Bentley is also being criticized for giving raises to his cabinet members and staff when the state is strapped for cash.

Alabama has agreed to change how inmates with disabilities are treated and housed to settle part of a broader lawsuit over prison medical care.

The proposed agreement was filed in federal court in Montgomery earlier this week.

The state has agreed to make sure there are cells and other housing compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and to make sure inmates can access various programs and facilities. The state will also work harder to identify inmates with developmental disabilities and mental illness.

The lawsuit contends disabled inmates were kept in facilities that couldn't safely accommodate them. It also claims they didn't have access to health programs and devices such as functioning wheelchairs.

Maria Morris, a Southern Poverty Law Center attorney representing inmates, is praising the agreement. She says prisoners have endured discrimination and hardship for too long.

Police in Gulf Shores are cracking down on the Spring Break crowd, with increased patrols and lots of arrests.

The Gulf Shores Police Department says they have made over 150 arrests this week, the majority of which were alcohol-related. Police Lieutenant Bill Cowan says the two major categories for arrest are public intoxication and minors in possession of alcohol. The city jail in Gulf Shores only has 23 beds, so some Spring Break inmates are being kept in hallways while others are being transferred to Foley’s city jail.

The wave of spring break drinking and resultant arrests is leading some Gulf Coast officials to consider banning alcohol on area beaches. Gulf Shores mayor Robert Craft and Orange Beach mayor Tony Kennon agree that they would both consider banning alcohol on the beach to preserve the area’s family-friendly atmosphere.

Lawmakers in Panama City Beach, Florida voted last year to ban alcohol consumption on area beaches this month.