Alabama clears plan to use COVID-19 relief funds to build prisons
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) on Friday signed legislation enabling the state to use COVID-19 relief funds to build prisons.
“Folks, this is a pivotal moment for the trajectory of our state’s criminal justice system,” Ivey said during an event where she signed bills enabling the state to use the funds.
“Let me be clear, while more reform of the system can and does need to be addressed in the future — and I am committed to that as are many legislators — today’s bill signing on the construction part of this issue is a major step forward,” Ivey continued.
The legislature opened a special session on Monday to consider a $1.3 billion construction plan to build three new prisons and renovate others. Of the funding, the state would use $400 million of its allocation from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan to partially finance the projects.
The legislature passed two bills on Friday allowing the state to move forward with the plan, according to The Associated Press.
Ivey’s plan drew backlash from Democrats, who say that the coronavirus relief funds were not meant for prison reforms.
Rep. Teri Sewell (D-Ala.) said she was “deeply disturbed” by the legislature’s plan.
“To be clear, the current state of the Alabama prison system is abhorrent, but the use of COVID-19 relief funds to pay for decades of our state’s neglect is simply unacceptable,” Sewell said. “COVID-19 relief money should be used for COVID-19 relief. Period.”
Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen asking her to prevent states from using the relief funds for prison construction.
Ivey pushed back on Nadler on Tuesday, saying that the federal government should “worry more about avoiding the pending government shutdown and running the country.”