Alabama lawmakers consider using virus funds to build prisons

Hands of the prisoner jail tile inmate cell prison tile crime / Getty Images

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - Alabama is weighing the use of $400 million in pandemic relief funds to build new prisons, a proposal Gov. Kay Ivey and Republican legislative leaders say would save state taxpayers' money, but that critics argue is not an intended use of dollars.

Lawmakers on Monday begin a special session focused on a $1.3 billion prison construction plan to build at least three new prisons and renovate others. The projects would be done in phases and funded with a $785 million bond issue, $150 million in general fund dollars and $400 million from the state's $2.2 billion share of American Rescue Plan funds.

Ivey and Republican legislative leaders have defended the use of the virus funds, saying it will enable the state to essentially "pay cash" for part of the construction and avoid using state dollars as well as paying interest on a loan.