New Alabama prison estimate jumps $300 million, total now just under $1 billion

Published 9:32 pm Wednesday, March 15, 2023

An Alabama prison finance authority on Wednesday increased what the state can spend on building a new 4,000-inmate prison in Elmore County after inflation and design changes have caused cost estimates to rise, a state official said.

The Alabama Corrections Institution Finance Authority voted to increase the authorized spending on the project from about $623 million to $975 million. Alabama Finance Director Bill Poole said the change was needed after inflation and design alterations increased cost projections.

“Can you spell inflation?” Republican Sen. Greg Albritton, a member of the authority, said when asked about the increase. “Every construction project that we have that is ongoing is experiencing this same phenomenon.”

Alabama lawmakers in 2021 approved a $1.3 billion prison construction plan that tapped $400 million from the state’s share of American Rescue Plan funds to help build two super-size prisons, including the one in Elmore County. Another prison is planned to be built in Escambia County.

The move drew criticism from congressional Democrats at the time, who said the pandemic relief money was not intended to build prisons.

The prison in Elmore County will house at least 4,000 inmates and offer space for medical and mental health care treatment. Alabama officials last year signed a $623 million contract with Caddell Construction Co. for the construction.

Poole said that initial cost estimate was “based on very early design.”

“We’ve increased, for instance, the education and vocational space. There have been other scope and parameters that have changed. Inflation has had a significant impact on construction costs, as is seen across all economic sectors,” Poole said. He said the state should have a final price this summer.

Albritton said he believes the construction project is the best option for the state despite the increase in cost.

“The prisons that we’ve got are falling apart. We’ve got to do something. It’s better to execute the plan that we’ve got, than try to start over,” Albritton said.

The prison construction plan has been criticized by some members of the Alabama Legislature. Alabama lawmakers are meeting in a special session to decide how to use the remainder of money the state received from the American Rescue Plan. Democratic Rep. Juandalynn Givan said during debate Tuesday that the state has many needs that could be helped by the relief dollars but lawmakers instead spent hundreds of millions of dollars for “prisons that we haven’t built yet.”