Where will it be built?

Published 2:21 pm Wednesday, July 17, 2019

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Subhead: Authority to provide prison property info

“It’s a roll of the dice.”

That’s how a city official, board members and an advisor to the Atmore-Monroe/Escambia County Industrial Development Authority (AMECIDA) described the impact of the construction of a mega prison in the area where the current prisons are sitting during a public meeting Monday at Atmore City Hall.

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The AMECIDA was formed three years ago specifically for the promotion of the lands around the existing prisons, Holman Correctional Facility and Fountain Correctional Facility, Jess Nichols, associate director of Coastal Gateway Regional Economic Alliance, who is serving as an advisor to AMECIDA, said.

Jim Johnson, chairman of AMECIDA, said Monday the authority recently held a meeting with Sen. Greg Albritton and Alan Baker, along with two construction companies, about this issue. He said they were told that 14 bidders signed on recently to bid on the prison construction, and all AMECIDA is doing is providing information about the available property.

“It’s such a good industrial site with the power options, water and sewage and gas,” Nichols said. “It’s been farm land for most of its life.”

Monday’s meeting included City Councilmen Jerome Webster and Chris Walker; Mayor Jim Staff; County Commissioner Brandon Smith; and others.

Johnson said all AMECIDA is doing is providing information on the piece of property where the prison could be built.


Prison initiative

Recently, the Alabama Department of Corrections released its prison transformation initiative, which will consolidate 14 high and medium custody level prisons into four large scale, state-of-the-art regional correctional facilities, according to the department’s website.

The Three men’s facilities will have 4,000 bed capacity and one women’s facility with 1,200 bed capacity. There will be a northern, central and southern facility constructed.

According to the ADOC, the department operates 28 correctional facilities in 17 counties throughout the state, and the facilities have an architectural design capacity to house 13,318 inmates. At present, the ADOC houses over 24,000 inmates, resulting in an occupancy rate of over 180 percent.

The initiative will allow the department to close 14 existing major prisons, consolidating the operations into four new facilities.

Each of the three new regional prisons are required to have a capacity to house 4,000 male offenders each and one new female prison with a capacity to house 1,200 offenders, resulting in a net design capacity increase of approximately 3,000 beds.

The proposal requires borrowing approximately $800 million through a bond issue. The debt would be serviced through a combination of reduced annual personnel cost, operational savings achieved through consolidation of facilities, supply, logistics, and transportation costs, and reduced medical and mental health costs. The construction period is estimated to be approximately 36 months. The women’s facility is slated to be the first one to begin.


Hospital impact

Johnson said during AMECIDA’s meeting with Albritton and Baker, and others, the significance of a hospital or trauma center was discussed.

“These folks came in and told us the hospital was of significant importance,” Johnson said. “We didn’t hear them say this site, or this site. They didn’t get involved with site selection issues, but they said you guys need to get off the ground.”

Nichols then said the request for a quote (RFQ) stage is due at the first of August for the prison construction. An RFQ is essentially a call for bids on a construction project.

“There are a lot of requirements in there for the distance between the prison and level 1 trauma center and a level 3 trauma center,” he said. “The distance to a level 1 and what the distance looks like matters.

“Yes, a new hospital at that location would be seen as an advantage,” he said.

Nichols was referring to a 10-acre piece of property in the Rivercane Development, which the Escambia County Healthcare Authority has requested from the city of Atmore to be donated. The city council, as of late, has no voted the donation.

“The hospital is a part of this because of bad timing,” Nichols said. “It’s all just coming to a head at the same time.”


Jobs impact

Nichols said between Holman and Fountain, some 400 employees work at both sites.

According to the prison initiative, every current employee will have the opportunity to continue their employment with the department of corrections. The department is proposing to site the four facilities in proximity to current facilities to reduce the impact on the department’s existing workforce. Some will have to move to other sites.

Recently, the state approved a pay increase for correctional officers.

Johnson said the construction of the mega prisons means that technology will improve, eliminating physical risk to the officers.

“With the size they’re going to it’s 200-plus hires,” he said.


What’s next?

Nichols said on Aug. 7, the RFQs will be due to the state to determine which bidders can facilitate the construction of the prisons. Then, in January, the bids will be accepted and sites will be determined for the construction of the mega prisons.