Alabama Governor on Defensive Over Plan to Use $400 Million in Federal Covid Relief to Build Prisons

© AP Photo / John MinchilloFences line the exterior of the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility, in Lucasville, Ohio
Fences line the exterior of the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility, in Lucasville, Ohio - Sputnik International, 1920, 30.09.2021
Alabama Republicans are firing back amid criticism by Democrats for a decision to use $400 million given to the state by the federal government to build and repair prisons. Governor Kay Ivey (R) said the funds are meant to replace lost revenue.
“The Democrat-controlled federal government has never had an issue with throwing trillions of dollars toward their ideological pet projects,” Ivey said in a Tuesday statement. “These prisons need to be built, and we have crafted a fiscally conservative plan.”
Her comments come after Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on Monday urging her to halt the “misuse” of funds given to the state by the American Rescue Plan (ARP).
“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 and will particularly harm communities of color who are already disproportionately impacted by over-incarceration and this public health crisis,” Nadler wrote. “The ARP is a historic effort to provide urgent assistance in a time of great suffering. It should not be used to worsen our national problem of over-incarceration."
Other Alabama politicians soon sounded off as well, including Alabama State Sen. Greg Reed (R), who said Democrats “should focus more on the runaway inflation, the crisis at our Southern border, the disastrous Afghanistan withdrawal.”
“We aren’t going to let a New York City politician tell Alabama what we can and cannot do. These funds are intended to replace revenue lost as a result of the pandemic, and are clearly eligible for prison construction,” Reed tweeted on Tuesday. “We are in a special session right now to protect the people of Alabama from a costly federal intervention, and I really couldn’t care less about the opinion of Washington liberals.”
However, their position is not unanimous: Sen. Kirk Hatcher (D) told the Associated Press that he had concerns about using the money for non-COVID purposes, recalling that “we are now still number one in the country for deaths.”
The massive stimulus bill passed in March set aside $1.9 trillion for a host of programs that included funding for healthcare programs, but also economic stimulus and relief, including loans for small businesses, debt relief money and cash checks cut for individuals.
Under the plan in a special session of the Alabama legislature on Monday, the Cotton State would build three new prisons with 4,000 beds each, one of which would be a women’s prison, and would renovate other existing facilities. Ivey called the prison system “broken” and characterized the plan as an “Alabama solution to this Alabama problem.”
The state’s prison system has drawn federal rebuke in the past, highlighting their poor conditions, but noting that problems such as understaffing, corruption, training, violence, illicit drugs and sexual abuse could not be solved simply by building new facilities. The Department of Justice also sued Alabama just last year, saying the state’s prisons for men are “riddled with prisoner-on-prisoner and guard-on-prisoner violence.”
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