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Alabama No-Bid Prison Contract Costs More Per Bed Than State’s Average Home

by Jordan Arizmendi

The Alabama Corrections Institution Finance Authority recently approved a $975 million no-bid contract for a single new prison – roughly equal to the budget of Alabama’s entire Department of Mental Health. Dividing the total cost by an expected population of 4,000 prisoners comes out to $243,750 per bed. At a much cheaper price, the state could simply buy each prisoner an average Alabama home, which cost $206, 044 in April 2023, according to real estate website Zillow.

For that exorbitant price, however, state taxpayers are not providing prisoners a home or even a remote-control mattress. It’s just a plain old bed in a plain old cell.

Alabama is desperate for more prisons. Earlier this month, Gov. Kay Ivey (R) signed a new bill that sets mandatory minimum sentences – up to life – for trafficking fentanyl. Under the new laws, possessing one gram of fentanyl could lead to three years in prison. Two grams could lead to ten years. Four grams to twenty-five years.

Meanwhile, the state Board of Pardons and Paroles continues to issue denials at a record-high rate stuck around 94%. [See: PLN, Apr. 2022, p.1.] That contributes to more overcrowding in state prisons, resulting in sky-high rates of violence that have so far mired Gov. Ivey and the state Department of Corrections (DOC) in not one but two federal lawsuits. [See: PLN, Apr. 2021, p.34; and Mar. 2022, p.38.]

But rather than address the problem of mass incarceration, the state legislature in 2022 approved Ivey’s $1.2 billion plan to construct two new “mega” prisons, raiding COVID-19 relief fund for $400 million and financing the rest with bonds – not slowing down even after the bond sale came up $200 million short in June 2022. [See: PLN, Aug. 5, 2022, online.] 

Meanwhile, as these funds have dried up, the price tag of the first prison has crept upward, leaving the state less than $100 million to build its second planned prison. Still Alabama remains devoted to imprisoning nearly twice as many citizens as the roughly 12,000 beds it currently has on hand – leaving the state little choice but to keep throwing good money after bad.

In addition to the billion-dollar investment in the new prison, DOC inked another billion-dollar contract in 2022 to let Corizon Health spinoff YesCare provide healthcare to its 20,000-plus state prisoners. [See: PLN, Oct. 2022, p.22.]

Sources: Birmingham News, Equal Justice Initiative, WBHM

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