Alabama strikes bond deal to build mega-prisons

Alabama on Tuesday reached a $509 million bond deal to help build two oversized prisons amid lawsuits from inmates seeking to block the project.

The Alabama Department of Finance has confirmed that the bond sale, which was approved last month, is complete. The closing of the deal comes after criminal justice reform campaigners struggled for more than a year to disrupt the sale. But legal wrangling over the project continues through ongoing litigation.

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey and lawmakers endorsed the construction as a solution to the state’s prison problems. Critics of the plan argue that the state is ignoring bigger issues – prison staff levels and leadership – to focus on construction projects.

“The construction of new and modern correctional institutions is absolutely and undeniably necessary to ensure the safety of inmates and staff, to improve mental health care, to provide space for vocational training and rehabilitation programs and, ultimately account, to protect public safety,” Alabama officials said. in a report.

“No eleventh-hour lawsuits by inmates or activists will stop these efforts, and the state intends to act to dismiss the lawsuits and vigorously defend itself against the allegations as being without merit,” he said. he continued.

The state has provided an official disclosure to underwriters and bondholders regarding the lawsuit, a department spokeswoman wrote in an email.

Activists had tried to discourage the deal, calling it a cruel investment in mass incarceration. A group of activists and impact investors had urged buyers to stay away from the bond issue.

“It’s incredibly disappointing that Alabama seems committed to building prisons,” said Eric Glass, an adviser to Justice Capital, an investment fund that has joined the boycott call.

The bond sale was $200 million lower than expected, but Glass said it was disappointing the state received more than $500 million in orders.

Although construction funding has been secured, legal wrangling is ongoing over the project.

The inmates filed a lawsuit claiming that state officials violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to analyze the environmental impacts of the new prisons. Another lawsuit challenges Alabama’s use of $400 million in pandemic relief funds from the U.S. bailout to help pay for construction.

“Building more prisons violates the ARP’s guiding goal: to foster a strong and equitable recovery that will uplift the communities hardest hit by the pandemic, namely low-income communities and communities of color,” the lawsuit states.

A separate lawsuit filed by an inmate argues that the cost of construction will drain financial resources and interfere with the prison system’s compliance with a court order to dramatically increase the number of corrections officers working in prisons across the country. ‘State.

Alabama prisons remain deadly and dangerous years after federal authorities warned the state of unconstitutional conditions, the US Justice Department said last year, noting that homicides between inmates had increased compared to already high levels.

Lynn A. Saleh