Gov. Kay Ivey is set to sign off on a deal Monday for the private prison company CoreCivic to build two of the state’s three new prisons, but according to documents shared by her administration with lawmakers Friday, the deal will cost approximately $500 million more than was predicted.
Ivey’s administration had said there was an $88 million annual cap on payments to CoreCivic to build and maintain the two prisons, to be located in Elmore and Escambia counties, but information shared by administration officials to state lawmakers during a Zoom call Friday show the payment is expected to be $94 million the first year, with increases every year after for the 30-year-period, according to Alabama Daily News, which broke the story.
The total cost to the state would be just more than $3 billion, according to the news outlet.
“Alabama is about to spend 3 billion dollars over 30 years on building new prisons that won’t fix the problems within our prison system,” tweeted Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, early Monday morning. “Also, as a reminder, after paying the money, at the end of 30 years, we won’t own either the buildings or the land they sit on.”
The U.S. Department of Justice in December filed a federal lawsuit against the state of Alabama and the Alabama Department of Corrections, alleging violations of inmates’ constitutional rights to protection from prisoner-on-prisoner violence, sexual abuse and excessive force by prison guards.
In previously released reports the Justice Department detailed systemic problems of abuse from guards, corruption, rampant drug use, violence, overcrowding and understaffing in Alabama’s prisons. The DOJ in those reports states that while new prison facilities might help in some areas, new buildings won’t fully address the state’s widespread, deadly problems in its prisons.
ADOC officials have also said the new prisons alone won’t solve the overcrowding issues in state prisons. Suggested prison reform legislation that might have helped address overcrowding stalled last year when the COVID-19 pandemic ended the state’s legislative session early.
Previous attempts by the state Legislature to pass legislation that would have allowed the state to borrow money to build its own prisons failed. Ivey’s decision to move forward with a build-lease plan circumvents the need for the state Legislature to approve the deal. Ivey and ADOC commissioner Jeff Dunn had declined to release the financial details of the prison construction plan.
State Sen. Clay Scofield, R-Guntersville, speaking on the Jeff Poor radio talk show recently expressed support for Ivey’s prison plan.
“I’m glad that the Governor has made this a priority because it is a real issue,” Scofield said. “There are some upsides to it. There are downsides to it, but prisons are not something that really sells with the taxpayers. What the taxpayers need to understand, what we need to prioritize is make sure their tax dollars are going to be spent wisely and if it’s going to help get us out from federal scrutiny.”
A question to Ivey’s press secretary Monday regarding the information shared with lawmakers on the Friday Zoom call wasn’t immediately answered.