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Despite $200 Million Bond Sale Shortfall, Alabama Moves Forward with New Prison Construction

by Jo Ellen Nott

 On June 30, 2022, Alabama officials announced they were proceeding with plans to build two “mega” prisons for $1.2 billion despite being falling $200 million short in a bond offering. The Alabama Corrections Institution Finance Authority (ACIFA) had hoped to sell $725 million in bonds but did not reach its goal due, blaming a volatile bond market and pressure from criminal justice reform activists.

Investment fund advisor Eric Glass said the finance authority for prison construction “didn’t just fall short. They fell well, well, well short.” His investment fund joined the call for a boycott of the bond. The boycott’s message centered on the idea that building more prisons shows a lack of creativity and is inhumane and cruel.  Glass recommended instead thinking broadly about conditions that lead to incarceration and improving those. 

The bond issue was a huge part of funding the construction, for which state officials previously announced they were also tapping $400 million in federal pandemic relief funds from the American Rescue Plan. [See: PLN, Apr. 2022, p.9.] State Finance Director Bill Poole said the state will seek additional funding from the Alabama Legislature or hold another bond sale when the economy is doing better. ACIFA planned to finalize the bond sale on July 12, 2022.

Dana Sweeney from Alabama Appleseed, a nonprofit that works to remedy root causes of injustice, said of Alabama’s plan to move forward: “There are a lot of things that $200 million can be spent on, and I would be very, very interested to hear how lawmakers would react to being asked for hundreds of millions of dollars more.”

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has a longstanding and ongoing lawsuit against the state over its allegedly unconstitutional conditions of confinement. [See: PLN, Apr. 2022, p.34.] DOJ investigative reports note dilapidated facilities that contribute to the problem, but they concluded that new facilities alone will not resolve prisoner-on-prisoner and guard-on-prisoner violence. Rather DOJ, like critics of the construction plan, said the state has ignored crucial issues of prison understaffing and poor leadership to focus on buildings. 

Alabama anticipates opening the two prisons, housing up to 4,000 inmates each, in Elmore and Escambia counties in 2026. They will replace older prisons slated to be closed. In June 2022, the state Department of Corrections reported 20,589 prisoners in custody, 170% of the 12,115 for which its facilities were designed.

Source:  Alabama Today  

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