JUNEAU, Alaska — Alaska's new medium-security Goose Creek Correctional Center, initially billed as a way to save the state money compared to shipping prisoners out of state, is in danger of being mothballed more than a year before it is scheduled to open.
Alaska lawmakers are raising concerns after being informed it will cost the state $71 million annually to operate the facility, 3 1/2 times the cost Alaska now pays to outsource its inmates to a private prison in Colorado.
"It wasn't supposed to be a financial debacle," said Sen. Hollis French, an Anchorage Democrat and member of the senate corrections subcommittee.
The new facility has lawmakers in a dither, with some requesting an audit of the projected operations budget. Others say the prison, with a capacity of 1,536 inmates scheduled to open in June 2012, should be left vacant or turned over to the private sector.
Lawmakers have also raised questions about the cost of utilities and road improvement for the prison, including the construction of a water treatment plant solely for the prison, necessitated by the institution's remote location.
Corrections officials argue that they have kept the legislature informed of the prisons costs and operating fees as construction progressed, and that the prison is within its mandated budget.
At a February budget hearing, Senate Finance Committee co-chair Bert Stedman raised the alarm about the prison's costs.
"It's a pretty heart-stopping budgetary impact" and an unexpected one at that, said Stedman, who has called for an audit on the facility to be completed by next January. "I don't know if I would open the prison."