MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WIAT) — The cost of a new 4,000-bed men’s prison in Elmore County is expected to cost upwards of $1 billion after a finance meeting Tuesday.
The initial price estimate for the new prison was about $620 million in April of 2022. This March, it climbed to $975 million. After Tuesday’s meeting of the Alabama Corrections Institution Finance Authority (ACIFA), the “final guaranteed maximum price” was approved at $1.08 billion.
The Department of Corrections says inflation is partly to blame.
Lawmakers initially planned to spend about $1.25 billion on two new prisons, but with this new price, the future of building a prison in Escambia County is uncertain.
“It’s unsustainable,” Rep. Chris England (D- Tuscaloosa) said.
England says he is concerned about spending such a big chunk on one project when the state has several needs.
“When you add in the fact that we are paying over a billion dollars for one prison with plans or phases to do others, but the billion dollars is basically tapped out in phase two, we will probably never see ever another Tutwiler built,” England said.
State Sen. Greg Albritton chairs the Senate’s General Fund Budget Committee and is on the Finance Authority that approved the new prison price. He’s not pleased with the new number either.
“Disappointment is the first adjective that comes in,” Albritton said.
Albritton says that in addition to inflation, lawmakers were presented with old cost estimates that did not reflect current prices.
“We’re looking at numbers developed in 2016. We made some errors there. So we started on a very very low ball. Whether that was incompetence, ineptitude or just a sales pitch, I don’t know. But we are extremely disappointed, and now we are trying to figure out what action do we take,” Albritton said.
Albritton says the state is committed to building a second prison, even as it’s unclear where the money will come from. He says part of this could be solved with a lottery.
“We have a semi-answer to this, and that is if we could get the gaming bill going. The gaming bill would produce probably close to a billion dollars every year,” Albritton said.
Albritton says he plans to bring gaming legislation next legislative session.
It’s expected the Elmore County prison will be completed in May of 2026.
Gov. Kay Ivey in a statement defended the project, saying:
“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.”