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Groups oppose $725M Alabama bond sale for building prisons

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — A coalition of advocacy groups is opposing Alabama’s plan to sell $725 million in bonds to finance construction of two new supersize prisons.

The Communities Not Prisons coalition, a group formed to oppose the construction, and other organizations issued statements Monday opposing the looming bond sale. The state is expected to go to the bond market on Tuesday, to provide financing for the construction plan. That money will be added to $135 million in state funds and $400 million in pandemic relief dollars that the state already agreed to put toward the construction project.

The prisons are to house up to 4,000 inmates and replace existing facilities. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, and lawmakers who approved the plan last year, have touted it as a partial solution to the state’s longstanding prison woes. Critics argue the state is ignoring the bigger issues — prison staffing levels and leadership — to focus on buildings.

The bonds would have a 2052 maturity date.

“It means that this is a project to marry our state to mass incarceration for the better part of this century. It means that Alabamians, and Black Alabamians in particular, will continue to be incarcerated and brutalized by the Alabama Department of Corrections on a breathtaking scale,” Veronica Johnson, executive director of the Alabama Justice Initiative, said in a statement.

The Alabama Corrections Institution Finance Authority, which is chaired by Ivey, met briefly at the Alabama Capitol last week to approve the sale of the bonds. The buildings would be leased by the Finance Authority to the state prison system and the bonds would be secured the lease payments from the state general fund budget.

Activists previously helped halt the construction project.

The bond sale comes after the construction plan — which was pursued under two different administrations — hit various snags over the years. An earlier version of the plan would have seen the state lease prisons built and owned by private companies. But that fell through after underwriters withdrew under pressure from activists to not be involved with private prison companies.

The U.S. Department of Justice has an ongoing lawsuit against the state over prison conditions.

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