More than a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, Alabama’s death rate is still running rampant. At one point in the past month, the state averaged as many as 100 deaths per day in the span of a single week. It also has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country; roughly 42% of Alabamans are fully vaccinated. As part of the American Rescue Plan, signed into law by Joe Biden in March, the state of Alabama will receive some $2.2 billion in federal funding aimed at alleviating the crisis in its borders; according to The Washington Post, states have broad discretion in terms of how they want to spend that money. And in Alabama—which, again, is still struggling to get a handle on COVID-19—lawmakers have chosen to devote about a quarter of it to building new prisons.
Yes, that’s correct: Alabama state officials have proposed spending up to $400 million in federal pandemic relief funds to build at least three new prisons holding some 4,000 inmates. “I am pleased and extremely hopeful that we are finally positioned to address our state’s prison infrastructure challenges,” GOP governor Kay Ivey said in a statement. “While this issue was many years in the making, we stand united to provide an Alabama solution to this Alabama problem.” Ivey justified the use of relief funds on the prison project—the projected cost of which is $1.3 billion—by saying that the state won’t “have to borrow quite as much money and pay all that money back.”