Well, this is a good use of taxpayer money.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey has officially signed into law a bill that approves the building of at least three new state prisons — all on the federal government’s dime.
The bill, which was passed into law on October 1, 2021, plans to use $400 million of COVID relief money to build the aforementioned prisons. The $400 million allotment is roughly 20% of the $2.1 billion in federal funds that are meant to provide supplies, testing, vaccine distributions, and more to help cover the toll that COVID has taken on the nation, per the American Rescue Plan.
This money would be particularly useful for a state like Alabama, which has the fourth-highest COVID-related death rate in the nation.
Instead, the money will be used to build new prisons in a state that is already being sued by the Justice Department for its inhumane prison conditions.
The lawsuit, which was filed in December 2020, claims that the conditions in Alabama mens’ prisons violate the constitution because the state “fails to provide adequate protection from prisoner-on-prisoner violence and prisoner-on-prisoner sexual abuse, fails to provide safe and sanitary conditions, and subjects prisoners to excessive force at the hands of prison staff.”
According to Assistant General Eric Dreidband, the DOJ conducted an investigation into Alabama’s mens’ prisons and found that “the violations have led to homicides, rapes, and serious injuries.”
And now, the state wants to build three more prisons just like it.
Gov. Ivey has vehemently defended the use of the funds and called it “an Alabama solution to our problems.” She gawked at the idea of following the federal mandate.
This seems to be a common theme among Alabama politicians, who love to give the proverbial middle finger to the federal government.
Alabama State Sen. Greg Reed addressed the bill on Twitter and wrote,
“I really couldn’t care less about the opinion of Washington liberals. We aren’t going to let a New York City politician tell Alabama what we can and cannot do.”
Reed’s tweet was addressing, in particular, New York Rep. Jerry Nadler, who is actively trying to fight the use of the funds for prisons. According to the AP, Rep. Nadler sent a letter to the Treasury Department Secretary Janet Yellen asking the treasury to “prevent the misuse of (American Rescue Plan) funding by any state, including Alabama” to build prisons.
Alabama currently has one of the highest rates of incarceration in the country. According to a report by the Vera Institute of Justice, the prison population in Alabama has increased by 149% since 1983. And most of that population is POC. As of 2017, Black people made up 28% of the state’s population and yet made up 54% of the prison population. And now, they’d like to build even more prisons to lock up even more Black people.
Alabama’s decision to reroute COVID relief funds to build prisons is inhumane, to say the least. As previously stated, the state has one of the highest COVID death rates and one of the lowest vaccination rates. Clearly, their residents desperately need their help. And yet, their government has chosen to abandon them in their time of need.
And then, to add insult to injury, Alabama is using that money to instead fund a criminal justice system that has already been deemed unconstitutional.
The state’s disdain for its residents is abhorrent. We can only hope that Alabamans will remember this when Gov. Ivey is up for reelection in 2022.
If you or someone you know is experiencing COVID symptoms such as shortness of breath, fever, or chills, please seek medical attention immediately. If you do not feel comfortable going to the doctor, you may be able to opt for telehealth options, which use Covid api systems that can help track your symptoms and get you the right diagnosis.
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Lena Finkel is the Editor and Founder of Femestella. Prior to starting Femestella, she worked at People, InStyle, Tiger Beat, and Sesame Workshop (aka Sesame Street). She loves all things Real Housewives and The Challenge. When she’s not busy binge-watching TV, you can find her taking an absurd amount of photos of her tuxedo cat Tom.