Alabama has diverted virus pandemic relief money to help build new super prisons and renovate old ones, The Associated Press reports.
The state Legislature approved the $1.3 billion prison construction project and earmarked $400 million of its $2.1 billion COVID-19 relief money to help pay for the project.
Republican Gov. Kay Ivey quickly signed both prison bills, commenting “This is a pivotal moment for the trajectory of our state’s criminal justice system.”
Congressional Democrat Terri Sewell criticized expenditures as going against the intent of the pandemic relief plan.
“There are many needs here in the State of Alabama and there are many people who need these funds,” Democratic representative Juandalynn Givan of Birmingham said. She voted against the bill in the Legislature.
The state Senate approved the use of the pandemic monies in a 30-1 vote and the overall construction plan in a 29-2 vote, according to AP.
“This was the right thing for Alabama to do,” said Republican Sen. Greg Albritton. “…We’ve got individuals working in conditions that are unsafe.”
The project includes three new prisons: A prison in Elmore County with about 4,000 beds with added space for medical and mental health care, a second prison of 4,000 beds in Escambia County and a new women’s prison.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said about Alabama’s prison funding plan: “I would be surprised if that was the intention of the funding.”
The American Rescue Plan passed in early 2021 with no votes from Alabama Republicans. Two Republicans senators and six Republican House members voted against the bill, according to a Sept. 29 Washington Post editorial.
Advocacy groups have said the state should consider broader uses for the money, AP reported.