MONTGOMERY, Ala. — An Alabama prison construction plan is headed to what a lawmaker called a “do or die” vote in committee Tuesday as the final week of the legislative session begins.
The construction bill — in varying forms— has been before lawmakers since the beginning of the session. The House Judiciary Committee will take up the latest incarnation Tuesday and decide whether the bill will move to the House floor.
“We are going to know absolutely for sure Tuesday morning where we are on prisons whether it is do or die,” bill sponsor Sen. Cam Ward said.
Under the plan, the state would build a new women’s prison and either lease or build three new men’s prisons. The state would borrow between $200 million and $845 million for construction, depending on how many prisons are built and how many are leased from local communities. Most existing facilities would close.
The latest House version, unlike the Senate-passed plan, would replace the state’s 75-year-old female prison.
Ward gave the bill a “40 percent” chance of winning final approval amid House disagreements.
“You have too many factions down there,” Ward said. “You have one group that wants to do nothing. One vote that wants to renovate only. … You got some that want to do one,” Ward said.
Opponents of the bill, including the Alabama Corrections Officers Association president and the Southern Poverty Law Center, argued that understaffing is the more pressing problem.
Alabama prisons house 23,074 inmates in facilities built for 13,318, which puts the system at 173 percent capacity.
The fates of dozens of bills will be decided this week. The Alabama House of Representatives will vote Tuesday on a bill aimed at shortening death penalty appeals. An autism coverage mandate will go before the Alabama Senate on Wednesday, according to chamber leaders. Lawmakers will also try to finish work on the state education trust fund budget and redistricting bills.