Members of the Alabama Corrections Institution Finance Authority (ACIFA) increased the maximum project price cap on the construction of a new 4,000-bed prison in Elmore County to $1.08 billion on Tuesday.
The Alabama Legislature approved $1.2 billion in funding for two 4,000-bed facilities in 2021 in response to a 2020 lawsuit from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) concerning poor prison sanitation, violence between inmates, excessive force from staff and sexual assault.
Earlier this year, the Alabama Corrections Institution Finance Authority (ACIFA) voted to increase the authorized spending on the Elmore facility to $975 million, a 57% increase from the initial project estimate of $623 million. This means the Alabama Legislature will have to provide more funding if both projects are to be completed.
"The new prison facilities being built in Alabama are critically important to public safety, to our criminal justice system and to Alabama as a whole. As inflation impacts every aspect of the American economy, ongoing construction projects by the state are no exception. We have not built new prisons in more than 30 years, and if it was easy, it would have been attempted by a governor before me. No doubt this is a major undertaking, but we are pressing on," Gov. Kay Ivey said in a statement on Tuesday after the meeting.
Ivey signed legislation for $1.3 billion in funding for two new prisons in Elmore and Escambia counties following a special session in 2021.
A spokesperson for the Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice said on X that the over $1 billion price tag would make the Elmore facility "the most expensive prison ever built in the United States."
The final amount is in. The State of Alabama will spend $1.082 billion for a new prison, the most expensive prison ever built in the United States. $270,500 per bed.— Alabama Appleseed (@AlaAppleseed) September 26, 2023
With $1.08 billion out of the $1.3 billion in funding going to just one prison, legislators will have to go back to the drawing board to figure out how to fund the construction of the Escambia County prison.
State Sen. Greg Albritton (R-Atmore) said at the meeting, "I just want to be careful that when we go in on this that we go in with our eyes open as to where we are."
"We've got a lot of hard choices here as to how we're going to make up this because we've got to have new prisons. We can not have one. Building one is not going to satisfy Alabama's requirements. It's not going to satisfy, I'm sure, the federal court," Albritton said.
State Rep. Rex Reynolds (R-Huntsville) told 1819 News on Tuesday, "We've got cash on hand to pay for this first prison, but we immediately have to focus on this second prison and kind of where we go."
"You know we'll watch the bond market. We'll look at both the '25 and '26 budget to see if there's any supplemental cash there and then decide what the shortfall is and then have to go to the market for that as well," Reynolds said.
The final completion date under the contract ACIFA members approved for the Elmore County Prison is May 2026.
Members of ACIFA include Ivey, Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner John Hamm, Alabama Director of Finance Bill Poole, Reynolds, Albritton, State Sen. Bobby Singleton (D-Greensboro) and Pardon and Paroles director Cam Ward.
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