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Governor responds to call for feds not to allow COVID aid for new prisons

Gov. Kay Ivey and Senate President Gred Reed responded Tuesday to a letter sent by U.S. House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler.

Governor Kay Ivey gave remarks and participated in Groundbreaking for the new Fort Payne City Schools Building, Electric, and Aviation Technology center, Monday, September 27, 2021 in Fort Payne, Ala. (Governor's Office/Hal Yeager)

Governor Kay Ivey and Alabama Senate President Pro Tem Greg Reed responded Tuesday to a letter sent by U.S. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on Monday asking the federal government not to let Alabama use $200 million in federal COVID aid toward prison construction. 

“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 legislation and will particularly harm communities of color who are already disproportionately impacted by over-incarceration and this public health crisis,” Nadler wrote in a letter to Treasury Department Secretary Janet Yellen on Monday. “The ARP is a historic effort to provide urgent assistance in a time of great suffering. It should not be used to worsen our national problem of over-incarceration.”

Ivey in a statement said the federal government’s own law would allow the state to use the funds toward new prisons. 

“The Democrat-controlled federal government has never had an issue with throwing trillions of dollars toward their ideological pet projects. Their political agenda is glaringly obvious to send a letter to the U.S. Treasury on the first day of our special session asking the federal government to ignore the laws they themselves wrote and to overstep our Alabama-driven plan,” Ivey said. 

“I would suggest to the New York Congressman, and for that matter the federal government, that they worry more about avoiding the pending government shutdown and running the country,” Ivey said. “The fact is, the American Rescue Plan Act allows these funds to be used for lost revenue and sending a letter in the last hour will not change the way the law is written. These prisons need to be built, and we have crafted a fiscally conservative plan that will cost Alabamians the least amount of money to get to the solution required. While our prison infrastructure is broken, our ability to govern is not. Same can’t be said for D.C.” 

Reed, in a statement, said Alabama won’t let “a New York City politician” tell Alabama what the state can and can’t do. 

“These funds are intended to replace revenue lost as a result of the pandemic, and is clearly eligible for prison construction,” Reed said. “We are in a special session right now to protect the people of Alabama from a costly federal intervention, and I really couldn’t care less about the opinion of Washington liberals. They should focus more on runaway inflation, the crisis at our Southern border, the disastrous Afghanistan withdrawal, and focus less on trying to score political points with their base by budding into Alabama’s business.”

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The U.S. Department of Justice is suing Alabama and the Alabama Department of Corrections for alleged unconstitutional treatment of incarcerated men, including a lack of basic health care and mental health care in understaffed and deadly facilities. 

In previously released reports, the Justice Department detailed systemic problems of abuse from guards, corruption, rampant drug use, violence, overcrowding and understaffing in Alabama’s prisons. The DOJ in those reports states that while new prison facilities might help in some areas, new buildings won’t fully address the state’s widespread, deadly problems in its prisons.

Eddie Burkhalter is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or reach him via Twitter.

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