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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: 515504

Reported Deaths: 10296
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison34999558
DeSoto33360432
Hinds32743643
Jackson24906392
Rankin22565405
Lee16455245
Madison14954283
Jones14158248
Forrest13834260
Lauderdale12311323
Lowndes11357193
Lamar10693140
Pearl River9748244
Lafayette8868143
Hancock7849132
Washington7559169
Oktibbeha7229138
Monroe7068179
Pontotoc7033110
Warren6885178
Panola6791135
Neshoba6744210
Marshall6707142
Bolivar6468151
Union643598
Pike5942157
Alcorn5921107
Lincoln5540136
George510680
Prentiss508285
Tippah495683
Itawamba4884107
Scott478999
Tate4777117
Adams4776125
Leflore4749144
Copiah458195
Yazoo458092
Simpson4566117
Wayne443472
Covington434895
Sunflower4319106
Marion4295112
Coahoma4244110
Leake414191
Newton396182
Tishomingo386894
Grenada3789109
Stone366166
Jasper341266
Attala340490
Chickasaw318367
Winston318392
Clay312978
Clarke301695
Calhoun286850
Holmes272889
Smith270552
Yalobusha244947
Tallahatchie232353
Greene225149
Walthall222166
Lawrence220242
Perry214556
Amite210357
Webster206548
Noxubee188843
Montgomery182157
Carroll175441
Jefferson Davis174343
Tunica163539
Benton153139
Kemper145441
Choctaw137027
Claiborne134839
Humphreys132239
Franklin126530
Quitman107828
Wilkinson106139
Jefferson97134
Sharkey65321
Issaquena1957
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 848137

Reported Deaths: 16185
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1164052005
Mobile743681384
Madison53497738
Shelby38435371
Baldwin38195589
Tuscaloosa36152644
Montgomery34562782
Lee25655264
Calhoun22630520
Morgan22530411
Etowah20069520
Marshall18846318
Houston17777426
St. Clair16958359
Limestone16195220
Cullman16157306
Elmore15940295
Lauderdale15069307
Talladega14260302
DeKalb13083271
Walker12168380
Blount10779193
Autauga10560157
Jackson10214196
Coffee9435192
Colbert9366210
Dale9044192
Tallapoosa7285202
Russell710065
Chilton7090170
Covington6969197
Escambia6967144
Franklin6364108
Chambers5801142
Marion5437132
Dallas5302210
Pike5129109
Clarke485786
Lawrence4850130
Winston4793110
Geneva4655136
Bibb435795
Barbour370680
Butler3444101
Marengo342993
Monroe338366
Randolph337867
Pickens334890
Fayette331785
Henry321166
Cherokee320364
Hale319189
Crenshaw261678
Washington256852
Cleburne255460
Lamar253555
Clay252969
Macon246367
Conecuh193562
Coosa186048
Wilcox178538
Lowndes178468
Bullock152845
Perry141840
Sumter139841
Greene130545
Choctaw94428
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