MONTGOMERY — Legislators are still searching for answers to how to pay for a second new prison after costs nearly doubled on prison construction in a new facility in Elmore County last year.
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 in September. The project is slated to be completed in May 2026.
The Alabama Legislature approved $1.2 billion in funding for two 4,000-bed facilities in 2021 in Elmore and Escambia Counties 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 in 2023, the 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.
State Sen. Greg Albritton (R-Atmore), the chairman of the Alabama Senate General Fund Budget Committee, said legislators were "given a bag of roses" about the initial projected cost of the two prisons.
"I would suggest that we were not misled. I would suggest that we were given a bag of roses," Albritton told reporters after budget hearings on Monday. "The contractors made significant errors. Their judgements and assumptions were incorrect. We ourselves made improper estimates especially when it was pointed out to the education size and such. We underestimated inflation. We didn't expect and see that to come. We didn't understand that the ARPA money was going to create this huge problems with supply chains, with workers, and with other constructions. Now, if you're in construction, you can do any job you want to and ask any amount because everybody is busy. All of those things have come into play. Yes, there were errors made. Yes there were improper things done. That doesn't account for all the problems and issues we had. There were a multitude of them. We've got to find our way through it."
Legislators will have to figure out how to come up with additional funds for the second prison.
"I truly wish I had the answer to that, but we're going to have to find the answer to that," Albritton said. "As was noted, the first prison's completion date is May of 2026 and we have the money for that. The law says we build two. The federal courts say we've got to build two. We're not doing new beds. We're trying to do replacement beds. You've heard the safety issues that are there. We've got to find the monies there. Yes, we hope there will be another bond but that won't be enough to meet the need. We've still got to come up with additional monies."
Albritton continued, "We've got to start. In fact, we've been dealing with it for the past two years. We knew that we were in trouble as soon as we got started with this. We've been trying to find ways to put monies away and to save some pennies here, looking under the couch cushions and we've got a pretty good pot if you will right now to continue to move forward but it's not going to be easy."
The 2024 legislative session begins on Tuesday. Gov. Kay Ivey's State of the State address is scheduled for Tuesday night.
"We just don't know what the future will hold," Albritton said. "We expect a surplus unlike the federal government that spends every stinking dime. Yes, we have a surplus but as is being outlined the needs are greater than the revenue. We've got to be careful about how we expend the money."
To connect with the author of this story or to comment, email [email protected].
Don't miss out! Subscribe to our newsletter and get our top stories every weekday morning.