MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WBMA) — Some state lawmakers are asking where is the transparency on how billions of dollars are being spent on no-bid contracts for two Alabama mega-prisons?
Groundwork is underway on a 4,000 bed prison in Elmore County. The target completion date is January of 2026. Another prison is planned for Escambia County also set to be completed in January of 2026 according to the Alabama Dept. of Corrections.
No one argues the need for more modern facilities, but the cost is a concern. The contracts were not bid out. We're told not many companies handle building large scale prisons.
"We try to be transparent in all we do," remarked Governor Kay Ivey when asked last week about the prison projects.
Alabama made headlines using $400 million in COVID relief money for the prisons. Then last month Governor Ivey's budget revealed plans to use $100 million from the Education Trust Fund surplus for prison education and vocational facilities.
SEE ALSO: AUTHORITIES ASK FOR PUBLIC'S HELP IN DADEVILLE MASS SHOOTING
SEE ALSO: GADSDEN MAN KILLED IN ATV CRASH
Senator Arthur Orr says the money will go to the state two year college system to manage assuring it will go to education programs.
Others believe the money should be used elsewhere. "You're literally robbing children to pay for these prisons. It's a huge red flag," said Akiesha Anderson with Alabama Arise. Anderson's group favors more money spent on alternatives to jail like drug and mental health treatment.
The Elmore prison's budget has ballooned from $623 million to $975 million. Inflation and design changes are blamed for the increases.
"The overall theme is it's really unsustainable. The prisons are eating away more of our general fund spending," said Rep. Chris England of Tuscaloosa.
The two new 4,000 bed prisons will not fix the system's severe overcrowding. "We lack the will to do anything and that will force the federal courts do something," warned England.
Right now the state is facing a federal lawsuit from the Department of Justice over prison conditions citing violence including murder and rape.
The prison population is trending back up as the parole board's number of paroles drops to around 10 percent.
Prison capacity is 12,115 while the current in-house prison population is 19,988 according to a January 2023 ADOC report.
The more people in the more money it costs. It's the keep everybody in prison board," remarked Senator Marika Coleman of Birmingham.
Coleman wants more focus on getting non-violent inmates into other programs. Critics also cite cases where the board has denied parole to elderly inmates with serious health conditions. The Department of Correction's new medical contract will cost the state $1.4 billion.
Governor Kay Ivey said last week she is satisfied with the work of the three member Pardons and Parole Board. She does plan to meet with Director Cam Ward this week.
"People who are not a threat to public safety are taking space of people who are," said England.
Members of the parole board and the Department of Corrections have declined our requests for an interview. A legislative committee overseeing the prison building meets next month. ABC 3340 News plans to be there to get more information on how your tax dollars are being spent.