Alabama officials said this week that the projected cost for building a single new prison in Elmore County now exceeds $1 billion.
In 2021, Alabama lawmakers committed to building two new prisons at a projected cost of $1.3 billion—even though experts have made clear that merely adding prison beds will not solve Alabama’s prison crisis.
Federal investigators opened an investigation in 2016 and found that “systemic and life-threatening” levels of violence in Alabama’s prisons violate the constitutional rights of incarcerated people and recommended changes that could help make the state’s prisons safer.
But Alabama failed to address the leadership failures and chronic understaffing that fuel the prison crisis and the violence continued unabated, leading the Justice Department to file a federal lawsuit against Alabama.
Alabama is one of the poorest states in the country, where one out of four children and 17% of adults struggle with food insecurity.
The state has nonetheless paid millions of dollars to private law firms to defend the state in court rather than implement low-cost solutions that would actually reduce violence, such as replacing broken locks.
While Alabama plans to spend more than a billion dollars to build one new prison, New York closed six prisons and saved $142 million last year alone.
Other states have cut prison populations, saved tens of millions of dollars, reduced assaults on prisoners and staff, and improved public safety by implementing parole reforms, such as annual parole review and alternatives to incarceration for technical violations.