Two more lawsuits filed to stop Alabama prison construction
Opponents of the Alabama prison construction project filed two more lawsuits on Monday seeking to block construction, arguing that the project misappropriates federal funds and moved forward without proper environmental studies.
The lawsuits, both filed in U.S. Court for the Mid-District of Alabama, are the latest attacks on the $1.3 billion project, which would erect two 4,000-bed men’s prisons in Elmore and of Escambia. Both lawsuits target the state’s use of $400 million in American Recovery Plan Act (ARPA) funds to fund prison construction, and name state agencies and the U.S. Treasury Department as defendants .
“Alabama has fundamental issues with education, health care, health care delivery and sanitation,” said Eric Glass of Justice Capital, an investment fund that organized opposition to the project. “To me, that’s much more in line with the spirit and intent of federal aid.”
The Department of Finance said in a statement on Tuesday that new prisons are “absolutely and undeniably needed to keep prisoners and staff safe, to improve mental health care, to provide space for vocational training and rehabilitation and, ultimately, to protect public safety.”
“The state continues to move toward closing its bond issue to fund these facilities,” the statement said. “No last-minute legal action by inmates or activists will stop these efforts, and the state intends to act to dismiss the lawsuits and vigorously defend itself against the allegations as baseless. ”
Messages seeking comment have been sent to the Alabama Department of Corrections, the Alabama Department of Finance and the US Department of Treasury.
The Legislature approved the project at the end of a special session last October after years of campaigning by Gov. Kay Ivey and the Department of Corrections. The DOC had argued that current prison facilities are unsafe and lack space for rehabilitation programs. Proponents said the new prisons would need fewer staff and allow for more programming.
For years, Alabama prisons have faced a torrent of violence. The US Department of Justice sued the state in 2020, arguing that the violence violated inmates’ Eighth Amendment protections from cruel and unusual punishment. Opponents have said the new construction will not address fundamental culture and staffing issues at state prisons that fuel the violence.
Plaintiffs in the lawsuits include inmates in the state prison system.
Bosarge and. Al.c. the United States Treasury Department argues that the state failed to provide adequate notice and time for the public to comment on the Elmore County Jail and failed to consider the environmental impact of the jail, in violation of the federal National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The lawsuit argues that because the prisons use federal money, construction of the facilities should be subject to NEPA.
“The defendants … have been engaged in construction-related activities and have appropriate funds for the construction (of prisons),” the lawsuit states. “Defendant Treasury has failed to enforce NEPA.”
The second, Kincaid et. Al.c. US Department of Treasury and. al., argues that the Treasury Department should enforce its final rule on the use of ARPA money, saying that “the construction of new correctional facilities in response to an increase in the crime rate” is “generally ineligible” for the ARPA use fund.
“In the case of Alabama, the state explicitly knew that the Treasury had to weigh in on the proper use of the funds, because it submitted a letter asking for clarification on the possibility of funding the prisons with ARP funding,” says the. court case. “Rather than wait for a response, Alabama moved forward with its jail plan, circumventing Treasury authority to determine the proper use of funds appropriated by Congress.”
While the final rule discourages the use of ARPA money for prisons, the Treasury Department issued compliance language in January that stated it “generally would not take action to enforce the provisions contained in the final rule” if a government had begun spending money under prior conditions. , broader rules for spending ARPA funds.
Troy Connell, an inmate at St. Clair Correctional Facility, filed a lawsuit to block the project last month, arguing that the state had an obligation to improve prison staff first, as the requires a federal court order.
The state planned to sell $725 million in bonds to fund the project, but the sale only raised about $509 million. The bond sale was closed on Tuesday morning, according to the Ministry of Finance.
Bill Poole, the state’s chief financial officer, said earlier this month that officials would look for other sources of revenue, but the project would continue on schedule. The state hopes to have the prisons operational by 2026.
Contact Montgomery Advertiser reporter Brian Lyman at 334-240-0185 or [email protected].