“The Republican Party in a nutshell: contemptible, cruel, and corrupt.”
Local activists in Montgomery, Alabama were joined by rights advocates across the country on Wednesday in condemning Republican Gov. Kay Ivey’s plan to use federal coronavirus relief funds to build three new prisons in the state—what the governor called “an Alabama solution to this Alabama problem” of overcrowding.
At a rally outside the State House as legislators debated the plan, demonstrators spoke about some of the inmates and prison workers who have died of Covid-19—at least 69 people, according to the Alabama Political Reporter.
“Their blood is on your hands,” the protesters chanted, directing their anger at Ivey and Republican lawmakers, who ultimately voted Wednesday afternoon in the Alabama House to construct two 4,000-bed prisons. The legislation will now move to the state Senate.
Protesters speak out against Alabama prison-building plan outside the State House. They talked about people who have died in the Alabama prisons. pic.twitter.com/92iWaU0z8Y
— Mike Cason (@MikeCasonAL) September 29, 2021
Ivey aims to build the new prisons using up to $400 million in Covid-19 relief funds, money approved as part of the American Rescue Plan (ARP) in March and intended for states to bolster vaccination campaigns, education, unemployment assistance, relief programs, and other needs.
On Monday, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) wrote to the U.S. Treasury Department, calling on Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen to prevent the state’s use of the funds “to fuel mass incarceration.”
Ivey’s proposal, Nadler said, 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.”
“The ARP is a historic effort to provide urgent assistance in a time of great suffering,” N
adler added. “It should not be used to worsen our national problem of over-incarceration.”
Similarly to Ivey’s rejection of economic shutdowns in April 2020—when she said she would not order Alabama residents to shelter in place to stop the spread of Covid-19 as other states had done because “we are not New York state, we are not California”—the governor on Tuesday responded to criticism with an attack on Democratic leaders.
“The Democrat-controlled federal government has never had an issue with throwing trillions of dollars toward their ideological pet projects,” Ivey said. “I would suggest to the New York congressman, and for that matter the federal government, that they worry more about the pending government shutdown and running the country.”
Political observers decried Ivey’s priorities as Alabama maintains one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country, with just 42% of residents fully inoculated against Covid-19.
This is kind of a picture of where we are as a country: Alabama governor defends plans to use covid relief funds to build new prisons. Meanwhile Alabama’s ICU’s are full with unvaccinated COVID patients. Is she thinking of putting them in prison? https://t.co/xLOEW5GfI5
— Alexander Stille (@a_stille) September 29, 2021
The Republican Party in a nutshell: contemptible, cruel, and corrupt,” tweeted Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.).
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights called on the Biden administration on Tuesday to issue formal guidance preventing states from using Covid-19 relief funds to expand their prison systems.
Alabama’s prisons were named the most over-crowded in the nation in 2019 in a study by the Equal Justice Initiative, with 21,570 people incarcerated—167.8% of the state prison system’s capacity.
“It’s true that Alabama’s prisons are in crisis due to violence and overcrowding. In fact, they’ve been in crisis for quite some time,” wrote Katie Glenn, a policy associate at the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) on Monday. “It’s not like we don’t know what needs to be done. Time and again, it’s been made clear that the path forward must include substantial decarceration by way of sentencing reforms, fixes to Alabama’s broken pardons and parole process, or opportunities for resentencing for people whose sentences should be reviewed.”
Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.) agreed with the organization, saying she was “deeply disturbed” by Ivey’s plan “especially as the virus rages on in our state.”
“To be clear, the current state of the Alabama prison system is abhorrent, but the use of Covid-19 relief funds to pay for decades of our state’s neglect is simply unacceptable,” Sewell said.