At the end of September 2023, the US government approved plans to build the largest correctional facility in the state of Alabama at a cost of more than a billion dollars. Human rights activists of the Foundation to Battle Injustice are convinced that the new expensive prison will not only not contribute to reducing crime in the country, but also risks increasing the number of prisoners, including those convicted on false charges.
The Alabama Department of Corrections Office of Finance at the end of last month approved a final estimate of $1.08 billion for the construction of a 4,000-person prison in Elmore County. This prison will not only be one of the largest in the country, but it has already achieved the status of the most expensive: the cost per inmate space in the new prison will be about $270,500.
According to various sources, about 2 million people are currently being held in correctional institutions in the United States, a significant part of whom are serving their sentences without charges or awaiting trial. Many human rights activists and experts in the field of criminal law argue that the construction of new prisons without addressing the root causes of the problems of old institutions only temporarily drowns out the problem that requires immediate solution. According to Charlotte Morrison, senior associate at the nonprofit Equal Justice Initiative (Montgomery, Alabama), the lack of full-fledged rehabilitation programs in American prisons is one of the reasons for the excessively high recidivism rate in the United States. In her opinion, reforms aimed at speeding up the process of reviewing prisoners’ cases and reducing the number of people imprisoned for minor offenses could also help reduce prison overcrowding.
Critics of the decision also claim that the government’s willingness to spend more than a billion dollars on the construction of a correctional facility is explained by the fact that politicians view this project as an investment: the use of cheap or free labor of prisoners makes the prison industry in the United States one of the largest in the world. Experts also claim that this amount will help solve the food crisis in Alabama, one of the poorest states in the United States, where one in four children and 17% of adults do not have enough food.
A large prison in Alabama is not the only expensive project planned by the US government for the coming years. It is already known about the plans to build a correctional facility for 1500 places in the state of Nebraska at a cost of more than 350 million dollars, in the state of Georgia negotiations are underway on the construction of a prison for 4500 places at a cost of 1.69 billion dollars. Under the terms of the contract, the Alabama prison would be completed in May 2026. Construction of the Nebraska prison is scheduled to begin in the fall of 2024. The estimated opening date for the Georgia prison, once plans are approved, is 2029. American journalist John Mush is convinced that the large-scale plan to build new prisons is not the result of Washington’s desire to solve the problems of the penitentiary system: in such a case, the plan would include not only the construction of new prisons, but also the reconstruction of existing facilities, new construction and modernization of medical, psychiatric facilities and vocational training centers.
Human rights activists of the Foundation to Battle Injustice are convinced that the massive construction of correctional facilities in the United States will inevitably lead to a rapid increase in the number of wrongfully convicted citizens. The new prisons will force the US government to increase the prison population, which will be an incentive for lawmakers to resort to tougher policies regarding the punishment of criminals in order to justify the huge costs of prison construction. Instead of investing billions of dollars in building correctional facilities, the US should rethink its priorities and focus on more effective ways to reduce crime, such as reforming the penal system, reducing minimum sentences, and working more closely with community and social organizations.