Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed into law Friday a number of prison infrastructure bills that will use coronavirus relief funds to build new prisons in the state, calling it a “pivotal moment for the trajectory of our state’s criminal justice system.”
Ivey, a Republican, had convened a special session of the Alabama Legislature to discuss how to fix what she has called a decades-long problem of prison infrastructure challenges. The governor said Friday’s bill signing was the culmination of hard work and conversations between lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
“I’d like to personally offer my thanks to the legislative leadership who are standing behind me right here, for a successful special session, and what we believe will yield untold benefits to all Alabamians in the days ahead,” Ivey said.
Earlier this week, Ivey defended her proposal to use the state’s allotment of Covid-19 relief funds to build prisons after receiving criticism from Democrats. The proposal included using up to $400 million of federal Covid-19 relief money, up to $785 million in bonds and no more than $154 million from the state general fund to add prisons and renovate others.
The state Legislature gave the package final approval Friday.
The federal rescue package was enacted to help states plug budget holes in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, but the Biden administration has issued broad guidance on how the funds can be used, including offsetting revenue losses to protect “vital public services.” The administration has also encouraged state and local governments to use some of the funding to address a summer rise in violent crime.
The use of federal money on prisons would help all Alabamians, according to Ivey, who pitched the idea as lessening the burden for taxpayers while prisons are built.
“The Democrat-controlled federal government has never had an issue with throwing trillions of dollars toward their ideological pet projects,” Ivey had said in a statement posted Tuesday on Twitter, calling the state’s prison infrastructure “broken.” “The fact is, the American Rescue Plan Act allows these funds to be used for lost revenue and sending a letter in the last hour will not change the way the law is written. These prisons need to be built, and we have crafted a fiscally conservative plan that will cost Alabamians the least amount of money to get the solution required.”
Ivey was responding to a letter from House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, asking her on Monday to “take all appropriate steps to prevent the misuse” of the funds by Alabama and other states.
“Directing funding meant to protect our citizens from a pandemic to fuel mass incarceration is in direct contravention of the intended purposes of the ARP legislation and will particularly harm communities of color who are already disproportionately impacted by over-incarceration and this public health crisis,” the New York Democrat wrote. “It should not be used to worsen 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 runs the Legal Advocacy Group, which lobbies for inmates’ rights, previously told CNN that “we could be using this money on mental health, on our sewage system. Covid is still going on; we should be using this money on our health care system.”
“We’re not saying the prisons don’t need to be built. We’re saying that this money needs to go to mental health, education, not a plantation in the middle of nowhere. The problem doesn’t change. The murders don’t stop,” he continued.
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