Alabama lawmakers want to use federal Covid relief funds to help pay for a plan to build massive new prisons, The Associated Press reports.
The state legislature on Monday kicked off a special session on a $1.3 billion plan, up to $400 million of which would come from funding the state received from President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan.
“It’s the right thing to do,” said Republican State Sen. Greg Albritton. “We can’t expect people to come to work when they don’t know they’re going to be able to leave work alive. We can’t expect to house people, inmates, in conditions that are deteriorating and unhealthy. We’ve got to fix the problems. The prisons are falling in.”
Democratic State Sen. Kirk Hatcher argued the money should probably be used to combat Covid since the state has one of the highest rates in the country.
“Remember, we are now still number one in the country for deaths,” he said.
Governor defends plan:
Republican Gov. Kay Ivey defended the state’s plans on Tuesday.
“The Democrat-controlled federal government has never had an issue with throwing trillions of dollars toward their ideological pet projects,” Ivey said in a statement.
Ivey said the American Rescue Plan “allows these funds to be used for lost revenue.”
“These prisons need to be built and we have crafted a fiscally conservative plan that will cost Alabamians the least amount of money to get to the solution required,” she said.
Nadler pushes back:
House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on Monday asking the department to “prevent the misuse of (American Rescue Plan) funding by any state, including Alabama” to build prisons.
“Directing funding meant to protect our citizens from a pandemic to fuel mass incarceration is, in direct contravention of the intended purposes of the ARP legislation,” he wrote.
The new plan comes amid a Justice Department lawsuit against Alabama alleging that its state prisons are “riddled with prisoner-on-prisoner and guard-on-prisoner violence.”
The lawsuit cited a 2019 report warning that “new facilities alone will not resolve the contributing factors to the overall unconstitutional condition of ADOC prisons, such as understaffing, culture, management deficiencies, corruption, policies, training, non-existent investigations, violence, illicit drugs, and sexual abuse.”