MONTGOMERY (Ala.) — In the midst of a national debate about the use pandemic relief funds, Alabama legislators quickly approved a plan to tap $400 millions from the American Rescue Plan to build two super-sized prisons. This was despite criticisms from congressional Democrats that this money was not intended to be used for such projects.

The Alabama Legislature approved the $1.3 billion prison construction plan and a separate bill to direct $400 millions of $2.1 billion in state rescue funds to help pay for it.

With the support of her legislative colleagues, Alabama Governor. Soon after, Kay Ivey signed these bills into law. The Republican called the plan “a major breakthrough” for the prison system. It is currently facing several federal court orders as well as a lawsuit from U.S. Department of Justice.

“This moment is pivotal for the trajectory state’s criminal justice system,” Ivey stated.

President Joe Biden signed the $1.9 trillion Covid 19 package in March. It provided a stream to cities and states to help them recover from the coronavirus epidemic. Some congressional Democrats, including U.S. Rep. Terri Selwell of Alabama, were critical of Alabama’s plan for almost 20% to use its American Rescue funds for prison building. State Republicans claimed that the expenditure was necessary to meet a public safety concern and is permissible under a provision to replace revenue lost and strengthen state services.

Republican Senator Greg Albritton stated that the funds would “go a long distance” in addressing long-standing prison problems.

” This was the right thing to do for Alabama. Our infrastructure is in disarray. People are living in filthy conditions. Albritton stated that there are people who work in unsafe conditions.

The plan was opposed by many Democrats in Congress, but received minimal opposition in the Senate. There, senators approved the pandemic money use in a 30-1 and the overall construction plan approval in a 29-2 votes.

Democratic Rep. Juandalynn Givan from Birmingham, who voted against these bills, said that she hopes the federal government will step in and tell the state that the expenditure isn’t allowed.

“There is a lot of need in Alabama, and many people are in dire need of these funds,” she stated. “But they (Republicans), saw an opportunity to grab the Biden money $400 millions, because it was just liquid water flowing through them and say, OK, let’s jump on it.'” Givan stated .

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When Jen Psaki, White House press secretary, was asked Wednesday about Alabama’s plan.

Asked Wednesday about Alabama’s plan, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said, “I would be surprised if that was the intention of the funding.”

Republican legislative leaders said they are comfortable they can legally use the funds because the American Rescue Plan, in addition to authorizing the dollars for economic and health care programs, says states can use the money to replace revenue lost during the pandemic to strengthen support for vital public services and help retain jobs. The U.S. Department of Justice sued Alabama for a prison system that was “riddled in prisoner-on prisoner and guard-on prisoner violence.” In a previous report, the Justice Department stated that the American Rescue Plan authorizes the money to be used by states. However, the plan also allows them to use the money to replace revenue lost during the pandemic.

The Alabama prison construction proposal calls to build three new prisons: a prison in Elmore County that has at least four ,000 beds, and more space for medical and mental care needs; another prison in Escambia County with at most 4 ,000 bed and a women’s prison. There will also be renovations to existing facilities. Six of the six current facilities will be closed.

The package of bills approved includes modest reform measures. The state will buy a private prison to house parole violators instead of sending them back into prison. Rehabilitation programs will also be offered there to combat recidivism.

Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn said the construction plan was both the “right thing to do” and would help the state “with respect to DOJ, with the other litigation.”

Advocacy groups argued the state needed to take on broader reforms.

“The Alabama Legislature proved that it is determined to spend $400 millions of American Rescue Plan funds to construct two mega-prisons, even though we have one the highest Covid deaths rates in the world,” stated Katie Glenn, policy associate at SPLC Action Fund. It won’t solve the problems in the prison system. Only decarceration can do that.”

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