The Alabama legislature has approved a $1.3 billion prison construction plan for the state, $400 million of which is coming from funds allocated in the American Rescue Plan for Covid-19 relief. Reacting to the bill’s passage, Republican Governor Kay Ivey said that she “look[s] forward to signing these bills as soon as possible”
The plan, once signed, would allocate funds to build at least two new prison facilities in the state and renovate existing prisons. Six facilities would permanently close. Alabama is currently being sued by the Department of Justice over a prisoner system that, the department said in a 2019 report, is “riddled with prisoner-on-prisoner and guard-on-prisoner violence” and problems that “new facilities alone will not resolve.”
Only one Democrat voted against the legislation to use pandemic relief funds for prisons, saying that the money should be used to assist hospitals in the state and other areas of need.
“The hospitals in Alabama have really been under tremendous pressure… We need to do more out of the rescue money to help the hospitals in the state of Alabama,” Beasley said, according to the AP.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) sent a letter earlier this week to Treasury Department Secretary Janet Yellen pressing her to prevent the state from using American Rescue Plan dollars 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 [American Rescue Plan] legislation and will particularly harm communities of color who are already disproportionately impacted by over-incarceration and this public health crisis,” Nadler wrote, urging Alabama to release individuals from prisons instead of “worsen[ing] our national problem of over-incarceration.”
Ivey, in remarks earlier this week, defended the plan and responded to Nadler, saying “sending a letter in the last hour will not change the way the law is written.”
“The Democrat-controlled federal government has never had an issue with throwing trillions of dollars toward their ideological pet projects,” the governor said in a statement Tuesday. “These prisons need to be built, and we have crafted a fiscally conservative plan.”
Republican leaders in the legislature said that they believe this is a proper use of the funds because states can use Covid relief to replace lost revenue due to the pandemic and retain jobs, the AP reported.
Asked about the legislation this week, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said at a Wednesday briefing, “I would be surprised if that was the intention of the funding.”