Activists congregated outside the Regions Center in Birmingham on Monday to protest the new $725 million bond sale, which will help finance the state of Alabama’s two new mega 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 bond sale comes almost 10 months after Gov. Kay Ivey signed the $1.2 billion prison plan into law on October 1, 2021. Among other provisions, the plan authorized the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) to construct two new 4,000-bed facilities in Elmore and Escambia counties.

State officials devised the plan in response to a lawsuit filed in 2020 against the state by the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) concerning poor prison sanitation, violence between inmates, excessive force from staff and sexual assault.

The lawsuit resulted from a multi-year investigation conducted by the DOJ Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney's Offices for the Northern, Middle and Southern districts of Alabama.

State officials approved the bond sale last week to help finance the construction of the two facilities. That money will be added to $400 million appropriated from the American Rescue Act funds and $135 million in state funds.

Eight financial institutions were listed on the bond document as financing the two new prisons: Stephens Inc., Frazer Lanier, Raymond James, Blaylock Van LLC, San Blas Securities LLC, Securities Captial Corporation and Thornton Farish.

Taylor Gusler, a member of the Students Against Prisons and an organizer of the protest, said that Regions Bank is the bond sale’s trustee, and that's why the group demonstrated in front of Regions. Gusler and his fellow protesters felt that constructing the new prisons will increase incarceration and won’t help improve mental health conditions.

Proponents of the plan suggest the new prisons will help address the issues specified in the lawsuit, including mental health, as the older facilities are inadequate.

2021 protests and ESG takedown

Similar protests took place in 2021 when activists gathered over the prison construction, originally supposed to be performed by private companies. 

According to Bloomberg Law, a $634 million bond sale was set to raise money for a company owned by CoreCivic, Government Real Estate Solutions of Alabama Holdings LLC. Alabama Holdings would then own the facilities and lease them to the state, which would run the prisons themselves.

The CoreCivic deal was scrapped after “ESG” investors pressured the London-based underwriter, Barclays PLC, to drop out of the bond deal. 

“ESG” stands for “environmental, social and corporate governance.” ESG investors focus on financing projects that they feel advance social and environmental causes.

“Slavery has not ended”

Former candidate for the Democratic nomination for the Alabama House of Representatives Antwon Womack was with the protesters Tuesday morning.

“Statistics show that building more prisons is not the answer, and so today Regions Bank and their corporate executives [and] Wells Fargo and their corporate executives have decided to underwrite and finance building mega prisons in this state,” said Womack.

Womack said he believes the issue has not been addressed because of the ratio of African Americans in prison to other ethnicities and said the state has neglected mental health.

“We can build these nice and pretty prisons, but guess what we’re going to do?” said Womack. “We’re going to continue the revolving door of filling these prisons up, and they’re going to become [overcrowded] again. Most of the public don’t know… They don’t know that they have thousands of inmates in a big gymnasium, three to a bunk, and no room. They have commodes and they have showers that, by the State Department of Health, have been ruled unsanitary and violate health code. But this has been going on for years, way before now.”

“It’s literally just a PR stunt for them to continue to incarcerate more people,” Gusler said about the plan. “...The narrative that the state is pushing is that [building more prisons will help]. And the state is saying that they’re building mental health facilities, but they’re not providing any funding for the practitioners providing the care.”

Gusler said the bonds have 30-year bond terms, which means the state will be held in debt for 30 years.

“That is going to make sure these prisons are filled with 8,000 more people being incarcerated and enslaved,” Gusler said. “Prisons will always cater to private interests because people are being contracted into providing materials… Slavery has not ended.”

"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.

One of the protesters, Wanda Bryant, said her youngest son is in prison in Alabama and didn’t receive the healthcare he needed on his foot, which put him in a wheelchair.

“They didn’t send him to a hospital,” Bryant said. “He didn’t get what he [needed]… They sat him right there in the infirmary.”

Bryant said she would rather see money go into improving existing prisons as opposed to building new ones.

“They’re not getting the best care,” Bryant said. “They’re understaffed. And the people they hire in the staff, they’re the ones bringing the fentanyl in the prison system… Their motive for building the prison system is to house more people of my color.”

“How do you address the lawsuit?”

Former Alabama Senator Cam Ward is on the Corrections Financing Authority.

Ward said he advocates for criminal justice reform and thinks constructing the new prison will help alleviate some of the problems.

“What do the protesters want?” Ward said. “The lawsuit filed in federal court states that the conditions of the current facilities are horrendous, A, and, B, that they do not provide adequate programming or mental health services… You can’t provide adequate mental health services in the current buildings we have. It cannot be done.

“...If you don’t build facilities that provide those services, how do you address the lawsuit?”

Ward said he’s been to every prison, and the prison plan does not dramatically increase capacity and even closes some older prisons. He also said the new facilities will be safer.

“The same people who are protesting against new prisons filed a lawsuit stating that the conditions in the current prisons are terrible,” said Ward. “I guess the question is, ‘What are you protesting?"

Ward said he fears some protesters want a mass release of inmates.

“I think just a cart-blanche ‘let’s just release as many as we can’ approach is not going to work,” Ward said.

To connect with the author of this story, or to comment, email

Don’t miss out! Subscribe to our newsletter and get our top stories every weekday morning.