Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey enacted several prison infrastructure bills on Friday that will use coronavirus relief funds to build two sizable prisons. The Republican governor ignored criticism from Democrats who criticized the plan, saying COVID-19 funds were not intended to be used for these types of projects. But Ivey, a Republican, called the bills “a pivotal moment in the trajectory of our state’s criminal justice system.” The governor said using $ 400 million of the $ 2.1 billion in federal aid the state received was a way to address long-standing problems in prison infrastructure.
Despite complaints from Democrats, the truth is that the White House has given states a lot of leeway on how to use the relief money. In its guidelines on the use of the funds, the Biden administration said the money could be used to protect “vital public services” and also to combat the increase in violent crime over the summer. “These prisons need to be built, and we have crafted a budgetally conservative plan that will cost the Alabamians as little money as possible to get the solution needed,” Ivey said in a statement earlier this week, defending the plan against criticism.
Some Democrats in Congress have criticized the plan, including Representative Terri Sewell of Alabama, who said US bailout funds were not meant to be used this way. But Republicans have said the two 4,000-bed men’s prisons are vital to the state. Construction is expected to start early next year and will take about three years. “It was the right thing to do for Alabama. We have a crumbling infrastructure. We have people staying in dirty places. We have people who work in dangerous conditions, ”said Republican State Senator Greg Albritton. Asked earlier this week about Alabama’s plan, White House press secretary Jen Psaksi said: “I would be surprised if that was the intent of the funding.
Some state Democrats are hoping the federal government will tell the state the funds can’t be used that way. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler of New York this week sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen asking him to “prevent the misuse of ARP funding by any state, including the ‘Alabama’ to build prisons. “Directing funding to protect our citizens from a pandemic to fuel mass incarceration is in direct violation of the objectives of ARP legislation and will particularly harm communities of color that are already disproportionately affected by over-incarceration. and this public health crisis. Nadler wrote.