Unsurprisingly, lawmakers in Alabama have decided to use money the federal government gave the state to recover from COVID-19 to build more prisons. That’s right: One of the states hit hardest by the pandemic is taking money intended for its struggling residents so it can lock up even more of them.
This is the same state that refused to take steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19, refusing to give its prisoners masks and not requiring prison staffers to wear masks. And it’s the same state that had the highest COVID-related death rate in its prison in the country. This is why I say it’s unsurprising that Alabama is taking federal COVID-relief money from its residents to build more prisons.
The money was given to Alabama by the federal government under the American Rescue Plan, signed into law by Pres. Joe Biden in March to help states recover from the fallout of the coronavirus. The state is going to use the money to build two new “mega” prisons in Elmore and Escambia counties, holding more than 4,000 prisoners each, plus a new women’s prison. The total cost of the three prisons is estimated to be around $1.3 billion.
This isn’t the first time Alabama has used federal emergency relief funds to promote mass incarceration of its residents. After the 2009 financial crisis, the state used 30% of its federal money from the 2010 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to expand its prisons. Since then, the Dept. of Justice has sued the state numerous times over the abuse of its prisoners. Now the state says it needs to use federal COVID-relief money to help settle the DOJ lawsuits.
The bill is called the “Prison Infrastructure Bill Package” and the only lawmaker to vote against it was Sen. Billy Beasley, a democrat from Clayton County. Gov. Kay Ivey touted the bill as a “major step forward” for the state’s broken prison system. “We stand united to provide an Alabama solution to this Alabama problem” of an overcrowded and corrupt prison system plagued with lawsuits.
Sources: APNews.com, BrennenCenter.org, AL.com, VanityFair.com
Dale Chappell is the author of hundreds of published articles on the federal criminal justice system, and the Insider`s Guide series of federal post-conviction books. He is a consultant in federal post-conviction procedure and an authority on federal sex offense issues.