October 2 (WNN) — Alabama will build new prisons with federal COVID-19 pandemic relief dollars under a bill signed by the state’s Republican governor.
The $1.3 billion plan to build two new men’s prisons aimed at addressing overcrowding issues at its existing facilities has drawn scrutiny from the US Department of Justice, AL.com reports.
Gov. Signed by Kay Ivey, the law directs $400 million from the American Rescue Planning Act, a coronavirus relief bill passed by Congress earlier this year. The rest will be funded with $785 million in bonds and $154 million in state funds.
Ivey, speaking at a press event Friday, called the plan an “Alabama solution” to the problems facing the state’s prison system, which has been subject to 15 federal mandates on conditions when draining state funds. He said that the construction of prisons is a big step towards reforming the criminal justice system of the state.
“It is a legally and financially sound job for us to address these challenges through the construction of new prison facilities,” she said. “And it’s also the morally right thing to do to ensure that we have safe working conditions for our corrections staff and appropriate rehabilitation capabilities for prisoners.”
One of the 4,000-bed men’s prisons will be built in Elmore County and will focus on addiction treatment programs as well as mental health services and education. The second will be built in Escambia County.
The move was criticized by Democrats. Earlier this week, US Representative Terry Sewell, D-Ala. said in a statement that he was “deeply disturbed” by the state’s plan to use the money on prisons while COVID-19 was still spreading rapidly among its population.
“Alabama currently has the highest COVID-19 death rate in the country,” he said. “To be clear, the current state of the Alabama prison system is abhorrent, but using the COVID-19 relief fund to pay for decades of our state’s neglect is simply unacceptable.”
As The Hill reports, U.S. Representative Jerry Nadler, D.N.Y., who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen asking states to stop using relief funds for prisons.
He said the use of funds to “fuel mass confinement” runs against the purpose of the relief package, harming communities of color that are already ravaged by over-imprisonment and the effects of the pandemic.
Ivey responded with a statement, asking Nadler to focus on the federal government’s own financial challenges.
“The Democrat-controlled federal government has never had a problem throwing trillions of dollars toward its ideological pet projects,” he said in the statement. “These prisons need to be built, and we have devised an economically conservative plan.”