Alabama lawmakers weigh using virus funds to build prisons

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey during a mask mandate briefing on Jan. 21, 2021.

Alabama is weighing using $400 million in pandemic relief funds to build new prisons.

Posted: Sep 27, 2021 9:42 AM
Updated: Sep 28, 2021 3:46 PM

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama is weighing the use of $400 million in pandemic relief funds to build new prisons, a proposal that state Republican leaders say would save state taxpayer money but that critics argue is not the intended use of the federal aid.

Lawmakers on Monday are scheduled to begin a special session focused on a $1.3 billion prison construction plan to build at least three new prisons and renovate others. The projects would be done in phases and funded with a $785 million bond issue, $150 million in general fund dollars and $400 million from the state’s $2.2 billion share of American Rescue Plan funds.

Gov. Kay Ivey and Republican legislative leaders have defended the use of the virus funds, saying it will enable the state to essentially “pay cash” for part of the construction and avoid using state dollars as well as paying interest on a loan.

“We don’t have to borrow quite as much money and pay all that money back,” Ivey told reporters this week of why the virus funds should be used for prison construction.

Republican Sen. Greg Albritton, who chairs the Senate general fund budget committee, said legislative leaders are comfortable they can legally use the money for prison construction. Albritton said part of the federal dollars are to replace revenue lost during the pandemic. He said that pot of funds “has many, many fewer restrictions” on how it is used.

Dev Wakeley, a policy analyst with Alabama Arise, said while the state may be legally able to use the money for prison construction, the purpose was to do things that “will help everyday Alabamians in their lives, and to smooth out the recovery.” Alabama Arise is an advocacy organization for low-income families.

He said the money could be used for items such as an expansion of the state’s Medicaid program to provide medical coverage to previously uninsured Alabamians and child care programs.

“Congress surely did not contemplate, state governments, deciding that well, you know, we’re just not going to use this money to actually improve lives of people ... instead we’re going to blow $400 million on building fancy new prisons that don’t even really get at the problems" of the state incarceration system.

Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, said there are “obviously better uses of the money.”

President Joe Biden’s sweeping $1.9 trillion COVID-19 rescue package known as the American Rescue Plan was signed in March, providing a stream of funds to states and cities to recover from the pandemic. The program gives broad discretion to states and cities on how to use the money. The U.S. Department of Treasury has said the funds can be used to support COVID-19 response, support economic stabilization for households and businesses, address systemic public health and economic challenges and to replace lost revenue to “strengthen support for vital public services and help retain jobs.”

A spokesman said the U.S. Department of Treasury does not preapprove any specific uses of the funds and has not issued a final rule on usage. Treasury officials say the department is monitoring all proposed expenditures and expects any state or local government that uses state and local funds in violation of the eligible uses to repay the misused funds to the federal government.

The Alabama prison construction proposal calls for at least three new prisons — at least a 4,000-bed prison in Elmore County with enhanced space for medical and mental health care needs; another at least 4,000-bed prison in Escambia County; and a women’s prison — as well as renovations to existing facilities.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 512632

Reported Deaths: 10262
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison34853555
DeSoto33162432
Hinds32556641
Jackson24830389
Rankin22442402
Lee16238242
Madison14874283
Jones14086247
Forrest13741259
Lauderdale12249324
Lowndes11286193
Lamar10644140
Pearl River9707244
Lafayette8827143
Hancock7835132
Washington7550169
Oktibbeha7204138
Monroe6989179
Pontotoc6970109
Warren6849178
Panola6746134
Neshoba6726210
Marshall6653141
Bolivar6440151
Union633897
Pike5924156
Alcorn5862107
Lincoln5525136
George510180
Prentiss500884
Tippah490282
Itawamba4829107
Scott477499
Adams4766125
Tate4748116
Leflore4723144
Copiah455895
Yazoo455591
Simpson4543117
Wayne442772
Covington432895
Sunflower4299106
Marion4265112
Coahoma4227109
Leake413790
Newton395581
Tishomingo381793
Grenada3775109
Stone365666
Jasper340166
Attala337790
Winston317792
Chickasaw313367
Clay311878
Clarke301195
Calhoun284449
Holmes271289
Smith268952
Yalobusha243747
Tallahatchie231453
Greene224749
Walthall221366
Lawrence217840
Perry213356
Amite209557
Webster205148
Noxubee188642
Montgomery181557
Carroll174441
Jefferson Davis173643
Tunica163239
Benton152639
Kemper144941
Choctaw136527
Claiborne134238
Humphreys131139
Franklin124929
Quitman107528
Wilkinson105939
Jefferson96834
Sharkey65121
Issaquena1957
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 844594

Reported Deaths: 16115
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1160612006
Mobile741651379
Madison53255732
Shelby38313368
Baldwin38061589
Tuscaloosa35996641
Montgomery34473781
Lee25541263
Calhoun22582518
Morgan22441406
Etowah20009517
Marshall18771316
Houston17723425
St. Clair16863358
Limestone16123218
Cullman16032303
Elmore15902294
Lauderdale14945306
Talladega14186299
DeKalb12957269
Walker12011380
Blount10700192
Autauga10512157
Jackson10151194
Coffee9412192
Colbert9325208
Dale9013191
Tallapoosa7248201
Russell707465
Chilton7015170
Escambia6951143
Covington6926195
Franklin6337108
Chambers5778142
Marion5400130
Dallas5283209
Pike5114109
Clarke484986
Lawrence4826129
Winston4777110
Geneva4640136
Bibb434094
Barbour369180
Butler3433100
Marengo342393
Monroe336666
Randolph334067
Pickens333188
Fayette329885
Henry320566
Hale317989
Cherokee316963
Crenshaw260477
Washington256952
Cleburne254360
Lamar251253
Clay250869
Macon244764
Conecuh192762
Coosa184647
Lowndes178168
Wilcox177438
Bullock152545
Perry141840
Sumter139041
Greene130245
Choctaw93228
Out of AL00
Unassigned00
Tupelo
Clear
59° wxIcon
Hi: 59° Lo: 29°
Feels Like: 59°
Columbus
Clear
59° wxIcon
Hi: 61° Lo: 28°
Feels Like: 59°
Oxford
Clear
57° wxIcon
Hi: 57° Lo: 28°
Feels Like: 57°
Starkville
Clear
61° wxIcon
Hi: 62° Lo: 27°
Feels Like: 61°
High pressure will continue to dominate our weather forecast for our Saturday. This will keep us filled with plenty of sunshine in our weather forecast for our Saturday.
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather