Alabama made a costly mistake in COVID-19 recovery funding. This is a better way forward.
When the Alabama legislature held a special session in September, it made a short-sighted and costly mistake. Legislators chose to allocate US$400 million in the American Rescue Program Act (ARPA) – about 20% of Alabama’s federal COVID-19 rescue funds –Funding a $1.3 billion prison construction project.
The prisons in Alabama are dilapidated, dangerous, and overcrowded to the point that The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has sued the state Under unconstitutional conditions.Fundraising aimed at helping people and communities recover from the economic hardship associated with the pandemic does not help to make Alabama more humane and inclusive, especially when Due to discriminatory practices in policing and incarceration, black Alabama is three times more likely to be imprisoned than white Alabama.
The state has better ways to build a smarter criminal justice system and avoid potential federal takeovers. New buildings that solve the same old problems will not let us get there.Real change needs Significant changes in sentencing and re-entry policies.
Sentencing reform is critical to building a more humane criminal justice system in Alabama
Alabama’s sentencing plan still relies on outdated ideas about punishment and limits the availability of improved re-entry services.An example is State habitual felony law (HFOA), even minor crimes will increase penalties.Like other mandatory minimum laws, it is a relic of the early racially motivated “strike crime” practice, and Resulting in higher imprisonment rates throughout the South.
The state legislature made minor improvements to the HFOA in 2015, but refused to make it retroactive. This failure has resulted in hundreds of Alabamas still serving sentences, because according to the current sentencing guidelines, today’s conviction time will be shortened.
We are Rise of Alabama Support the complete abolition of broken HFOA. Until then, the state should at least ensure that people will not serve prison sentences for the same conviction.
Facts have proved that these efforts are an uphill battle for reform advocates. During the special session in September, legislators failed to pass a bill that would allow some people to apply for heavy sentences based on current standards. In recent years, legislators have also failed to expand the scope of medical release and the release of elderly people who have grown old due to the reasonable possibility of recidivism. Efforts to expand and improve the transfer plan have also stalled.
In the long run, all these policies will save Alabama money. They will also show respect for the humanity of the detainees. But the legislator chose not to take action.
Continued refusal to carry out meaningful reforms may cost Alabama a heavy price. Even if small measures are not taken to reduce overcrowding and improve poor conditions, it may prompt the Department of Justice to take over the state prison system in its entirety. If this happens, the legislature can only blame its own inaction.
How can federal aid help Alabamas?
Prioritizing the consequences of bad spending goes beyond federal intervention in the broken prison system. The ARPA relief fund represents an opportunity to advance the state of Alabama in many areas, which will increase opportunities and stability for people across the state.
Provide healthcare to hundreds of thousands of uninsured Alabamas
More than 220,000 Alabamas live in Medicaid coverage gapThey earn too much to obtain Medicaid based on the state’s basic eligibility restrictions, but they earn too much to obtain subsidized insurance through the Affordable Care Act. Another 120,000 Alabamas have already used their finances to pay for insurance they really cannot afford.
Federal AR??PA funding will allow Alabama to expand its Medicaid program. Alabama can use these dollars to meet other key spending priorities. This will free up state funds to cover the start-up costs of the expanded Medicaid program to cover adults who are not covered.
Renew infrastructure and invest in equity
Alabama should use ARPA funds to update and expand infrastructure and support services. The economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic Caused a disproportionately heavy burden Women, black Alabama, and communities with few resources to rely on. Investment in childcare, expanded early childhood education, and long-term postpartum health insurance will greatly improve the quality of life of those most affected during the pandemic.
Federal relief should be used to mitigate the immediate effects of the pandemic and break the pattern of long-term intentional divestment of black belts and other regions. Community-based organizations provide valuable connections and expertise to direct investments where they are needed. The state should ensure that these groups have the ability and means to provide inputs for the best use of relief funds.
Complete the implementation of housing and public transportation solutions
With the lack of political will hindering the full implementation of the national solution, ARPA funding also represents an opportunity to move forward.In the past ten years, the legislature has created two Public Transport Trust Fund with Affordable Housing Trust Fund (AHTF). But it failed to provide a dollar for either party.
Transportation investment will improve everyone’s quality of life. Powerful public transportation creates long-term, high-paying jobs and enables people to travel to work reliably and cheaply. It is an important public product that helps the elderly and the disabled fully participate in public life.
Housing investment will help ease The state has a severe shortage of affordable housingThe state AHTF funds will increase the resilience of the community by allowing troubled families to reduce spending to maintain their homes. It can also help speed up rental assistance and prevent evictions during future recessions.
Increase transparency and modernize technology
Alabama’s technological infrastructure lags behind contemporary standards.In the early stages of the pandemic, this resulted in Significant delays in unemployment insurance paymentsThe intricacies of IT systems at all levels of the state government have caused confusion and delays for the public. Technology investment will reduce duplication of work and increase access to public information.
New way forward
The ARPA Fund provides a generational opportunity to start correcting policy deficiencies that hinder progress and long-standing inequality in many states.For example, advocates in other southern states, such as Oklahoma with West Virginia Proposals are being developed to use unprecedented amounts of resources to solve the problem of over-regulation and imprisonment in the black and Brown communities. For Alabama, now is an opportunity to remove some of the damage from the state’s history of racist policy choices. This opportunity is too precious to be wasted on past failures, such as excessively punitive criminal justice policies.
The legislature’s recent misuse of $400 million is inexcusable, but this bad decision has not prevented the way forward. The remaining ARPA funds are an opportunity to invest in sufficient resources and a transparent and responsive government. Our state must seize this opportunity to significantly improve the lives of every Alabama.