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Are legal challenges next for Alabama’s prison plan using COVID-19 relief dollars?


Governor Kay Ivey quickly signed bills that propose using $400 million dollars in COVID-19 relief money to build three new prisons. Republican Senator Greg Albritton said state officials are confident they can legally use the pandemic funds. That could be the opening shot in both legal or regulatory challenges to the plan. The Alabama ALCU told APR that the plan does nothing to address corruption within Alabama’s troubled corrections system. U.S. House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. It asked her to "take all appropriate steps to prevent the misuse" of the funds by Alabama and other states.

"Directing funding meant to protect our citizens from a pandemic to fuel mass incarceration is in direct contravention of the intended purposes of the ARP (COVID relief) legislation and will particularly harm communities of color who are already disproportionately impacted by over-incarceration and this public health crisis," Nadler wrote. "It should not be used to worsen our national problem of over-incarceration."

Alabama’s special session, and the just signed prison construction plan, comes amid a national debate over the use of pandemic relief funds. The Republican legislature and Governor ignored criticism from State and congressional Democrats that the money was not intended for that. The State Senate voted thirty to one to use $400 million dollars in COVID relief money for the project.

Pat Duggins is news director for Alabama Public Radio.
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