It was an attempt to appease federal officials who have been investigating the state since 2016 for failing to properly administer its prison system when Alabama Governor Kay Ivey (R) signed legislation in October 2021 to divert $400 million of the state’s pandemic relief funds from the American Rescue Plan to build a trio of massive prisons in the state.
Despite this, the state continues to detain thousands of its citizens in unlawful detention as it moves forward with plans to build more prisons that it will almost certainly be unable to operate.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama and the Sentencing Project, Ivey’s plan was never intended to be utilized to fund new prisons, and that money from COVID-19 relief was never supposed to be used for that purpose.
They have publicly expressed their dissatisfaction in an open letter to Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), Chairwoman of the Financial Services Committee in the United States House of Representatives, urging her to launch an investigation into the use of American Rescue Plan funds.
COVID-19 Relief was for COVID, Not bigger prisons
JaTaune Bosby, executive director of ACLU of Alabama, pointed out that Ivey’s plan is a “gross misuse of funds that were sent to help the people of Alabama, not punish them.”
The United States Treasury Department responded to the prison construction plan with mixed messages, ruling on the one hand that prison construction was not an eligible use of the State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds, while also stating that it would not take action to enforce provisions in the final rule if a local government had begun spending those funds in accordance with earlier and less restrictive guidelines on how to deploy them.
In addition, the use of $400 million in federal COVID-19 relief money allows the Alabama Corrections Institution Finance Authority to begin turning dirt on its prison expansion sooner rather than later. The fact that the state that is infamous for its horribly run prisons want to build mega-prisons would be the equivalent of people saying that they want Nixon to manage the treasury.
The Alabama Corrections Institution Finance Authority had planned to lease facilities from private prison companies, including CoreCivic, until they were unable to secure financing after lead underwriter Barclays PLC backed out under pressure from prison reform activists in April 2021.
The two new men’s prisons and one new women’s prison are expected to cost a total of $1.3 billion when completed. Lawmakers in Alabama allowed the state to borrow $758 million in bonds to finance infrastructure projects, with a debt service payment of approximately $50 million per year.
The projects are projected to receive an additional $150 million in General Fund allocations in the near future.
As of December 2021, the state was looking for banks that would be willing to underwrite a $758 million bond sale in exchange for a promise that they would not cave in to pressure from prison reform activists, such as those who were successful in having the state’s lease-back agreement with private prison companies scuttled earlier in the year.
The fact that they want to secure an almost $1 Billion dollar loan with not a promise to pay back, but rather a promise to not to give in to prison reform activists, highlights, the good work that these various organizations actually do, and the effects that they have.