LETTER TO THE EDITOR | Alabama Student Activists Hold Rally Against New Prisons

The reversal of Roe v. Wade, as well as clandestine planning, led to an impending human rights atrocity that remained largely unaddressed by the citizens of Alabama. Billions of taxpayer dollars are about to be spent on facilities designed to incarcerate Alabamians for the next thirty years.

Don’t worry if you didn’t know them, because that was their intention. After Alabamians across the state collectively stopped the state from building three mega-jails just a year ago, they were keen to overthrow the will of the people. In fact, there is even a clause in the contracts stating that the banks are not allowed to give in under “activist pressure”.

Alabama plans to build two new prisons, one in Elmore County and one in Escambia County. They have a declared capacity of 4,000 prisoners each.

This will be funded by $400 million from the state’s COVID-19 relief funds, which could very well be spent on health care or economic relief for citizens who have lost their livelihoods. $163 million will be transferred from the state’s general fund and $725 million in private bonds will be sold to fund the rest of the project.

The aforementioned private bonds have a 30-year bond term, so in order for investors to get their returns, three more decades of incarceration for Alabamians will be guaranteed in a bid to make people money.

The state’s justification for building new prisons dates back to the Justice Department’s 2019 lawsuit over unconstitutional conditions inside its prisons. This lawsuit was not unprecedented, as there was one previously filed in 1996 that cited the same concerns, to put it lightly, that we see now.

The lawsuit documents brutal violence specifically among staff. Although overcrowded conditions are highlighted, it is explicitly stated that construction will not solve the problems plaguing these facilities.

They include funding for the construction of facilities for the provision of mental and physiological health care, but they do not include anything for the practitioners who would provide it. If the space cannot be used adequately due to staffing, the only foreseeable use would be to house more people to hold more Alabamians captive in an oppressive and destructive system.

Draconian minimum sentencing laws, which desperately incarcerate people for catastrophic times, are the main culprits behind the current incarceration rate. More than 5,660 people are currently serving life or life without parole sentences, representing 26% of the total population of the Alabama Department of Corrections. This makes the immediate overcrowding of prisons as soon as they are built inevitable.

They claim that they will close some of the prisons once the new ones are built. So either they will continue to incarcerate more people or the overcrowding problem will simply be moved to another facility. They are using $1.3 billion, some of which will be paid for by Alabamans, to perpetuate a problem they are causing.

The main banks underwriting the bonds are Stephens and Frazier-Lanier. Along with them, Wells Fargo and Raymond-James also provide underwriting and Regions acts as trustee.

Alabama Students Against Prisons, along with other organizations in the Communities Not Prisons Coalition, are organizing against this project. A rally is held in Birmingham outside Wells Fargo and Regions Banks on 5th Avenue in Birmingham, Alabama, June 27 at 9 a.m. We ask all Alabamians to stand up against this horrible waste of our financial resources.

Taylor Gusler is a graduate student pursuing a master’s degree in social work.

Opinions expressed in columns and letters represent the views and opinions of their individual authors.

These opinions do not necessarily reflect the student body, faculty, administration, or board of trustees of Auburn University.

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