‘For Cruelty’s Sake’: State of Alabama diverts $400 million in COVID funds to build prisons, leaving many in dire straits


Explore Our Galleries

A man stands in front of the Djingareyber mosque on February 4, 2016 in Timbuktu, central Mali. 
Mali's fabled city of Timbuktu on February 4 celebrated the recovery of its historic mausoleums, destroyed during an Islamist takeover of northern Mali in 2012 and rebuilt thanks to UN cultural agency UNESCO.
African Peoples Before Captivity
Shackles from Slave Ship Henrietta Marie
Kidnapped: The Middle Passage
Enslaved family picking cotton
Nearly Three Centuries Of Enslavement
Image of the first black members of Congress
Reconstruction: A Brief Glimpse of Freedom
The Lynching of Laura Nelson_May_1911 200x200
One Hundred Years of Jim Crow
Civil Rights protest in Alabama
I Am Somebody! The Struggle for Justice
Black Lives Matter movement
NOW: Free At Last?
#15-Beitler photo best TF reduced size
Memorial to the Victims of Lynching
hands raised black background
The Freedom-Lovers’ Roll Call Wall
Frozen custard in Milwaukee's Bronzeville
Special Exhibits
Dr. James Cameron
Portraiture of Resistance

Breaking News!

Today's news and culture by Black and other reporters in the Black and mainstream media.

Ways to Support ABHM?

By Liz Vinson, SPLC

A guard watches over inmates at Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women, one of Alabama’s overcrowded correctional facilities (Montgomery Advertiser)

Jenny Eisenberg is an unemployed writer – but not by choice. The market she writes for has “dried up,” and her husband, who holds a doctorate in literature, also cannot find work due to a saturation of academics pursuing few opportunities. Their financial situation is “not the best,” and providing for a family of six has led them to live off food stamps.

At the same time, states across the country are using their share of the $350 billion in State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds from the American Rescue Plan Act to support families and businesses struggling from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, to maintain vital services and to invest in communities.

But in Alabama, rather than focusing on poverty, education equity or affordable housing, the Legislature directed $400 million of its $2.2 billion in COVID relief to help fund the construction of three new mega-prisons, further embracing a failed system of mass incarceration that for generations has disproportionately harmed communities of color and people living in poverty.

The fact that Alabama chose to divert about 20% of its COVID funding to build new prisons doesn’t surprise Eisenberg, given Alabama’s history of choosing incarceration over programs that fight poverty and, potentially, lead to less crime. Alabama is the fifth-poorest state in the country, with nearly 17% of its population living in poverty.

“The government is being cruel for cruelty’s sake,” Eisenberg, 44, told the Southern Poverty Law Center. “Making prisons out of COVID funds when the state could’ve helped people is cruel, and as long as Alabama accepts that cruelty – which is how it’s always worked here – we won’t be able to move forward to solve issues such as poverty, racism, homophobia or sexism.”

Learn more about Alabama’s misuse of COVID funding and the state’s overfilled prisons.

This isn’t the first time that COVID funding for vulnerable populations has been diverted. The prison industrial complex often gets more than its share of funds.

More breaking news.

Comments Are Welcome

Note: We moderate submissions in order to create a space for meaningful dialogue, a space where museum visitors – adults and youth –– can exchange informed, thoughtful, and relevant comments that add value to our exhibits.

Racial slurs, personal attacks, obscenity, profanity, and SHOUTING do not meet the above standard. Such comments are posted in the exhibit Hateful Speech. Commercial promotions, impersonations, and incoherent comments likewise fail to meet our goals, so will not be posted. Submissions longer than 120 words will be shortened.

See our full Comments Policy here.

Leave a Comment