State Watch

Alabama eyes using pandemic relief funds on prison system

A prison fence
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Alabama lawmakers are spearheading an effort to use coronavirus pandemic relief funds to help the state’s beleaguered prison system.

State lawmakers opened a special session on Monday to consider a $1.3 billion construction plan that would use federal funds to partially finance building three new prison and renovating others, according to The Associated Press, after the Department of Justice released a report last year that found that correction officers in the state used excessive force on prisoners in a number of incidents.

The proposal, which has the backing of Gov. Kay Ivey (R), specifically calls for using $400 million from the funds Alabama received from the American Rescue Plan, which President Biden signed in March, to pay for the construction.

Specifically, the plan calls for creating at least three new prisons: one in Elmore County with at least 4,000 beds and enhanced room for medical and mental health necessities, a facility with at least 4,000 beds in Escambia County and a women’s prison, according to the AP.

It also recommends making renovations to overcrowded facilities that are currently in existence.

Republican state legislative leaders have said they believe they can use the funding from the American Rescue Plan because it said states are allowed to use it to replace revenue lost during the pandemic, to bolster support for important public services and to help maintain jobs, the AP reported.

Critics, however, argue that the issues affecting Alabama’s prisons are more than building conditions and have encouraged the state to consider broader reforms, according to the AP. They also contended that the state should not put federal pandemic relief money toward building prisons.

The special session comes after the Justice Department released a report in July 2020 that said Alabama corrections officers frequently used excessive and sometimes deadly force in violation of inmates’ constitutional rights.

The poor behavior reportedly occurred in 12 out of 13 prisoners that the agency looked into.

Investigators said they found “reasonable cause to believe that the uses of excessive force occurring within Alabama’s prisons give rise to systemic unconstitutional conditions.”

Tags Alabama Joe Biden Kay Ivey Penology Prison United States prison system

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