U.S.

Alabama's new super-sized prison is costing over $1 billion to build

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey issued a statement blaming inflation for the price escalation but said the facility is needed.

A large gray prison with a watchtower in the forefront.
Michael Conroy / AP
SMS

The cost of a new Alabama super-size prison now under construction rose to more than $1 billion, complicating the state's plans to build two of the behemoth facilities.

The Alabama Corrections Institution Finance Authority approved a final price Tuesday of $1.08 billion for the prison now under construction in Elmore County. The cost will devour most of the $1.25 billion that lawmakers in 2021 initially agreed to spend to build two prisons each housing 4,000 inmates.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey issued a statement blaming inflation for the price escalation but said the facility is needed.

“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,” Ivey said. “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.”

The planned 4,000-bed prison in Elmore County, including facilities for medical care and vocational training, is expected to be completed in May of 2026, according to the contract terms.

The Alabama Legislature in 2021 approved a $1.3 billion prison construction plan — that tapped $400 million from pandemic relief funds — to build two prisons and renovate the others. However, inflation and design changes caused cost estimates to rise, state officials said.

The Finance Authority in March increased the authorized spending on the first prison from about $623 million to $975 million. The latest action approved spending of a little more than $1 billion, which state officials said is the final price for the project.

Rep. Rex Reynolds, chairman of the House General Fund budget committee, said the price of labor, concrete and other materials have risen since lawmakers approved the project.

“That's just something we can't control ... But we've got to move forward with doing this job,” Reynolds said.

“This is about not just creating a safer environment for the inmates, this is about a safer environment for our corrections officers to work in. The design of these prisons will better manage the prison population. It's more conducive for the vocational teaching of our inmates,” Reynolds said.

Asked if the lawmakers would pursue borrowing additional money for the construction of the second prison, Reynolds said it is too early to know. He said the state does have “cash in hand” that could be used to pay for design costs and delay the need to borrow money.