Alabamians have repeatedly warned Gov. Kay Ivey to not proceed with plans of building three mega prisons utilizing taxpayer dollars, and certainly not at an ever-growing expense of at least $2 billion. As evidenced by responses to the plan from both sides of the political spectrum, many Alabamians have concluded that constructing new prisons will not aid in solving our public safety, economic, and public health challengings. Let us not forget that we reside in a state in which healthcare is--for many--inaccessible, especially in our most rural parts. Let us not forget that we reside in a state that is one of the poorest; 247WallStreet recently ranked the state of Alabama as the sixth poorest state in the nation. Lastly, let us not forget that we reside in a state whose disparity-ridden education system is ranked dead-last in the nation. This is abhorrent, nothing we should be proud of, and everything we should address.
I understand why the governor believes there is a need to construct new mega prisons. I understand profoundly that our prison facilities are failing and overcrowded. However, they are failing and overcrowded due to an abundance of incarcerated citizens who should not have been incarcerated to begin with and who should instead be in rehabilitation programs. They are failing and overcrowded due to a lack of access to mental healthcare. The state has notoriously closed several mental health facilities since 2012, allegedly in an effort to address budget deficits even as the Alabama Department of Corrections budget swelled. Since being sworn in, Governor Ivey has shown little concern for improving our mental healthcare system, doing practically nothing to address the lack of access and reverse the adversely impactful decisions made during her time as Lieutenant Governor.
Needless to say, being a young, African American male raised in the South and having become accustomed to the well-documented lack of regard for communities of color, I feel as if this plan will only further prohibit societal and racial progress within our state and again ignore the underlying issues associated with the failures of our system, and as a result I am frustrated by the Governor’s decision. There are more effective measures Governor Ivey could’ve taken that would--for the long term-- solve all or most prison problems, boost the morale of our constituency, and undoubtedly transcend our economic and societal limitations and expectations. Those measures include: hiring and placing social workers and educational counselors in all public schools at the primary and secondary levels; expanding Medicaid and equitably expanding access to mental healthcare across the state, and in the process ensuring that those charged with non-violent drug-related offenses are placed in rehabilitation, second-chance programs statewide; and creating opportunities for individuals released from incarceration to ensure they have fair access to jobs that pay a living wage, education, and social programs to help get them back on their feet.
Some people might label these suggestions part of a liberal agenda, but I refer to them as indicative of progress and necessary change. As a young Alabamian, I only desire great things for my state, and I know that despite current (political) divisions, we are all aware of the difference between right and wrong, and of what we must do in order to move our state forward.