MONTGOMERY — Gov. Kay Ivey will ask four companies to submit bids for building three new state prisons, her office announced Tuesday, as the massive construction project inches forward

Ivey announced that four developer teams have qualified for the next stage of the bid process: The GEO Group, Corvias, CoreCivic and Alabama Prison Transformation Partners. The firms were selected after submitting qualifications for the project.

Ivey announced a plan in February to build the new large regional prisons to replace most state prisons. The prisons would house about 3,000 inmates each and would extend over 700,000 square feet (65,000 square meters), according to earlier state bid documents.

"The revitalization of prisons in Alabama is crucial, and this plan to improve the state's infrastructure is a major step towards reduced recidivism and improved public safety," Ivey said a statement Tuesday, expressing her commitment to moving ahead with the plan.

GEO and CoreCivic are two large private prison companies. Alabama Prison Transportation Partners is a project of multiple entities, including Birmingham-based construction company BL Harbert International, according to Ivey's office.

Ivey's office said the request for proposals will go out to the companies next month. The proposals are expected to be received in spring 2020.

The process has at times faced criticism that it is too secretive.

Lawmakers previously rejected former Gov. Robert Bentley's proposal to build regional prisons and close existing facilities.

Ivey's administration is exploring the possibility of leasing the prisons. Ivey said earlier this year that state officials will first gather proposals from companies and then decide how to proceed.

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