Alabama GOP Governor signs bills to use Covid-19 relief funds to erect prisons into law

By Rebekah Riess and Devon M. Sayers, CNN

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey enacted a number of prison infrastructure bills on Friday that will use coronavirus relief funds to build new prisons in the state, calling it a “crucial moment for the trajectory of our state’s criminal justice system ”.

Ivey, a Republican, had called a special session of the Alabama legislature to discuss how to resolve what she called a decades-long problem with problems with prison infrastructure. The governor said Friday’s signing of the bill was the culmination of hard work and conversations between lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

“I would like to personally thank the legislative leaders who stand behind me here, for a successful special session, and what we believe will bring untold benefits to all Alabamians in the days to come,” Ivey said.

Earlier this week, Ivey defended his proposal to use the state’s Covid-19 relief fund allocation to build prisons after receiving criticism from Democrats. The proposal called for using up to $ 400 million in federal Covid-19 relief money, up to $ 785 million in bonds and no more than $ 154 million from the general state fund to add prisons and renovating others.

The state legislature gave its final approval on Friday.

The federal bailout was enacted to help states fill budget holes in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, but the Biden administration has issued general guidelines on how the funds can be used, including compensation for lost revenue to protect “vital public services”. The administration also encouraged state and local governments to use part of the funds to combat the summer increase in violent crime.

Using federal money in prisons would help all Alabamians, according to Ivey, who pitched the idea as easing the burden on taxpayers during prison construction.

“The Democrat-controlled federal government has never had a problem spending billions of dollars on their favorite ideological projects,” Ivey said. said in a statement on Twitter on Tuesday, calling the state’s prison infrastructure “broken”. “The point is, the American Rescue Plan Act allows these funds to be used for lost income and sending a letter in the last hour will not change the way the law is drafted. These prisons need to be built, and we have devised a budget-conservative plan that will cost the Alabamians as little money as possible to get the solution required. “

Ivey was responding to a letter from House Judicial Speaker Jerry Nadler to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, asking her on Monday to “take all appropriate steps to prevent the misuse” of funds by Alabama and others States.

“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. Wrote the New York Democrat. “It should not be used to aggravate our national problem of over-incarceration.”

The Treasury Department did not respond to a request for comment on Ivey’s statements.

Pastor Robert White, who heads the Legal Advocacy Group, which advocates for the rights of detainees, previously told CNN that “we could use this money for mental health, on our sewage system. Covid is still ongoing; we should be using that money for our health care system.

“We’re not saying that prisons don’t need to be built. We say this money has to go to mental health, to education, not to a plantation in the middle of nowhere. The problem does not change. The killings don’t stop, ”he continued.

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Rachel Janfaza of CNN contributed to this report.

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