Alabama lawmakers are planning to build prisons with virus money


MONTGOMERY, Alabama (AP) – Amid a national debate over the use of pandemic aid, Alabama lawmakers on Friday quickly approved a plan to draw $ 400 million from the U.S. bailout plan to help build two oversized prisons help, and fend off criticism from Congress Democrats that the money is not going to such projects.

In a bipartisan vote that resulted in little disagreement, the Alabama Senate voted 27-3 to approve the $ 1.3 billion prison plan and $ 400 million of the state’s $ 2.1 billion bailout fund taxes to pay him. The House of Representatives accepted minor changes to the building law and gave the plan approval in a five-day special session.

Republican Senator Greg Albritton said state officials are confident they can legally use the pandemic funds, and said the construction to replace many existing prisons will “go a long way” to addressing the state’s longstanding prison problems to tackle.

“That was right for Alabama. We have a crumbling infrastructure. We put people in dirty places. We have people who work in unsafe conditions, ”said Albriton.

President Joe Biden’s comprehensive $ 1.9 trillion COVID-19 bailout package was signed in March, providing states and cities with a stream of funds to recover from the pandemic. The Alabama plan sparked sharp criticism from some Democrats in Congress who said building prisons was not the intent of the relief bill. Republicans said the rules give them the discretion to spend the money on what they see as their greatest need.

The US Department of Justice has sued Alabama over a prison system that is “riddled with prisoner-to-prisoner and guard-to-prisoner violence.” The Justice Department noted in a previous report that dilapidated facilities contributed to the unconstitutional situation, but noted that “new facilities alone will not solve the matter” due to cultural problems, management deficiencies, corruption, violence and other issues.

The Senators voted 30: 1 to tap the pandemic funds and 29: 2 to the overall construction plan.

Democratic Senator Billy Beasley, the only Senator to vote against the measure, had spoken out against the bills and expressed concern that prisons in his district might be closed under the plan, which could inflict an economic blow on his rural district . He and several Democrats called on the state to quickly allocate the remaining $ 1.7 billion in US bailout funds to health care and other needs.

“The hospitals in Alabama were really under tremendous pressure. … We need to make more of the bailout money to help the hospitals in Alabama, “said Beasley.

US House Justice Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler of New York sent a letter this week to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen urging the Treasury Department to “cease and desist” the misuse of (American Rescue Plan) funds by any state , including Alabama, ”to prevent prisons from being built.

Ivey fired back her own letter, writing, “The Democratic-controlled federal government has never had a problem throwing trillions of dollars on their favorite ideological projects.”

When asked about the Alabama plan on Wednesday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said, “I would be surprised if that were the intent of the funding.”

Republican legislators said they feel confident they can use the funds legally, as the American bailout plan, in addition to approving the dollars for economic and health programs, says states can use the money to raise the revenue lost during the pandemic replace to strengthen support for vital public services and help preserve jobs.

The proposal to build a prison in Alabama calls for three new prisons – one in Elmore County with at least 4,000 beds and more space for medical and psychiatric care; another prison with at least 4,000 beds in Escambia County; and a women’s prison – as well as renovations of existing facilities. Six current facilities would be closed.

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