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Alabama on Tuesday closed a $509 million bond deal to help build two supersize prisons amid lawsuits by inmates bidding to block the project.
The Alabama Finance Department confirmed that the bond sale, which had been approved last month, was finalized. The deal closure comes after criminal justice reform activists had strived for more than a year to disrupt the sale. But legal wrangling over the project is continuing through ongoing litigation.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey and lawmakers approved the construction as a solution to the state's ongoing prison woes. Critics of the plan argue that the state is ignoring the bigger issues — prison staffing levels and leadership — to focus on building projects.
“The construction of new and modern correctional facilities is absolutely and undeniably necessary to support the safety of both inmates and staff, to improve mental health care, to provide space for vocational and rehabilitative programs, and ultimately to protect public safety,” Alabama officials said in a statement. “No eleventh-hour lawsuits by inmates or activists will halt these efforts, and the state intends to move to dismiss the lawsuits and to vigorously defend against the claims as being without merit."
The state provided a formal disclosure to underwriters and bondholders regarding the lawsuit, a spokeswoman for the department 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 offering.
"It's incredibly disappointing that Alabama just seems hellbent on building prisons," said Eric Glass, an adviser to Justice Capital, an investment fund that joined the call for a boycott.
The bond sale fell $200 million short of expectations, but Glass said it is disappointing that the state had more than $500 million in orders.
While financing for the construction was secured, legal wrangling is ongoing over the project.
Inmates filed a lawsuit claiming 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 American Rescue Plan to help pay for the construction.
“Building more prisons violates the guiding purpose of ARP: to foster a strong and equitable recovery that will uplift the communities most impacted by the pandemic— namely, low-income communities and communities of color,” the lawsuit states.
A separate action filed by an inmate argues the construction cost will drain financial resources and interfere with the prison system’s compliance with a court order to dramatically boost the number of correctional officers working inside state lockups.
Alabama prisons remain deadly and dangerous years after federal officials warned the state of unconstitutional conditions, the U.S. Department of Justice said last year, noting that inmate-on-inmate homicides have increased from already high levels.
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