State facing challenges in new prison construction

Published: Jun. 30, 2022 at 5:56 PM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - After using pandemic relief money and other state funds to finance the state’s prison construction project, securing additional funding for more may be a challenge. This after the state approved a bond amount that fell short in the market.

The state approved a $725 million bond and secured a little over $500 million in financing for two of the new prisons being built. The Alabama Corrections Institution Finance Authority held a meeting Thursday afternoon to determine what this will mean for the rest of the project.

State Finance Director Bill Poole says this shows positive progress.

“This is a big step forward to seeing the projects move forward on the current timeline,” said Poole.

But not everyone’s on board with the bond approval.

“We haven’t even addressed the original problems that cause the state to think we need new prisons in the first place,” said Veronica Johnson, the Executive Director of the Alabama Justice Institute

However, Poole says that disapproval did not play a role in falling $200 million short.

“We had over a billion dollars in orders and short-term maturities, which tells us that the projects are acceptable to the market,” said Poole. “There wasn’t interest in long-term maturities in the market.”

Johnson believes the state should focus on securing more funding for education.

“Enhance technical program, enhancing our four-year institution,” she said. “Where if we put more kids in school in Pre-K, that will alleviate the school to prison pipeline that we have.”

Poole says that money will be used for more than just housing inmates, but to create a safer corrections system. The state is forced to make improvements following a federal lawsuit.

“We need to have improved health care services, we need to have improved mental health services, and we need to have improved vacant vocational services,” he said.

After Poole and other members of The Alabama Corrections Institution Finance Authority met, Gov. Kay Ivey released a statement:

“This week, the state of Alabama took a significant and positive step forward in our prison construction process, as my finance team, pursuant to the bipartisan authorization of the Legislature, secured more than $500 million in financing for the projects. Our job certainly is not done, however, and we will continue to take steps in the coming months and years to ultimately improve Alabama’s criminal justice system. I am grateful to all who have confidence in the state of Alabama and in our determination to improve the conditions of our corrections system for the betterment of all Alabamians.”

This bond the state sold is separate from the $400 million pandemic relief and state funds already secured. The state says they are still on track to open a facility in 2026.

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