Journalist: Overcrowding won’t be fixed with new prisons

Alabama Legislature

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By WVUA Digital Reporter Anneliese Taggart

Tuesday marked the second day of the special session of the Alabama Legislature, which was called by Gov. Kay Ivey to deal with prison overcrowding under the looming threat of federal intervention and fines.

A proposal has been introduced to spend $1.3 billion to build two new prisons in the state and renovate several more. Much of that money would come from federal COVID-19 relief dollars – many believe using relief money for prison construction is not a proper use of the funds, but Ivey disagrees.

Journalist Beth Shelburne, who has been covering prisons in Alabama for nearly a decade, said there are simply too many people in Alabama’s prisons.

“More people care about this than they used to,” Shelburne said. “I think that if they can’t care about the human element of this, the morality of it, the fact that it is a human rights crisis that’s happening in our state, in our community, then maybe they can care about it from a government transparency standpoint.”

Shelburne said the Department of Corrections must improve its transparency and reveal how it’s spending taxpayer dollars on housing prisoners in the state.

On Wednesday, The House of Representatives voted 74-26 for the $1.3 billion construction plan and 75-25 to use $400 million from the American Rescue Plan. The plan to use pandemic funds drew sharp criticism from some Democrats, including the state’s lone Democratic congresswoman.

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