Bentley calls for prison bond issue, prekindergarten boost

Published 10:36 pm Tuesday, February 2, 2016

By Kim ChandlerThe Associated Press

MONTGOMERY (AP) — Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley on Tuesday night will use his annual State of the State address to call for the construction of new prisons and close aging state facilities s that have come under scrutiny for overcrowding, violence and abuse.

Bentley, in his annual speech before lawmakers, will propose a bond issue to build four new large prisons to replace existing prisons, including the state’s embattled Tutwiler Prison for Women where federal officials alleged prisoners were subjected to abuse and harassment unconstitutional conditions.

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“We need to slam the door shut on Tutwiler and build a new female prison,” Bentley said in an interview.

The Department of Justice struck a settlement agreement with the state last year to improve conditions at Tutwiler where federal officials said inmates were subjected to pervasive abuse and harassment

State prisons have been in a negative spotlight for years, sparking lawsuits over violence, medical care and worries about eventual of federal intervention.

State prisons in January housed about 24,000 inmates in facilities originally designed to hold 13,000, ranking the state top in the nation in prison crowding. The Alabama Legislature last year approved prison reform legislation designed to incrementally bring down crowding levels with sentencing, work release and parole changes.

Seven inmates were killed in 2015 inside Alabama prisons, according to the Montgomery-based Equal Justice Initiative.

The governor will lay out a broad agenda that includes what he described as anti-poverty measures: boosting prekindergarten access, a proposal to expand high-speed Internet access in rural areas and assistance for students who want to attend two-year colleges. The governor said the state’s persistent and generational poverty is at the root of many of the state’s problems.

“Our poverty holds us back educationally. It holds us back economically,” Bentley said in an interview this week.

Other agenda items include:


Bentley is seeking a 2 percent pay raise for teachers, education employees and state workers. Lawmakers also want a pay raise for educators, but finding money in the cash-strapped general fund for a raise for state employees will be more difficult.


Bentley has made a goal of trying to expand access to the state’s small but lauded prekindergarten program so that every 4-year-old child in the state has an opportunity to attend. The governor is proposing an additional $20 million in funding for the program.


The governor said he is proposing a program that would identify seventh-graders in the state’s poorest counties and provide them mentoring, tutoring and, eventually, scholarships to state two-year colleges if they make their grades.