ACLU Urges U.S. Treasury to Investigate State Use of ARPA Funds to Illegally Build, Expand Prisons and Jails

Legal experts from ACLU’s National Prison Project, affiliates in Ala., Ariz., Ark., Iowa, Ind., La., Minn., Mo., Okla. urge Inspector General of U.S. Treasury Dept. to investigate illegal use of ARPA funds by state governments

January 18, 2023 4:45 pm

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WASHINGTON — A new letter released today is urging Richard K. Delmar, deputy inspector general of the U.S. Treasury Department, to investigate the misuse of hundreds of millions of dollars by state and local governments, who accepted American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds, to illegally build and expand prisons and jails instead of using the money for COVID-19 relief for communities.

Signed by the ACLU National Prison Project and ACLU affiliates in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Iowa, Indiana, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, and Oklahoma, the letter cites official rules prohibiting the use of those funds for jail and prison construction and requiring state and local governments to spend ARPA funds on programs that divert people from jail, and on practices that lower community violence, such as trauma recovery.

In the letter, the ACLU cites evidence of states that used COVID-19 relief funds to build or expand jails and prisons, which is expressly prohibited by the Department of Treasury. The letter concludes:

“We ask you to open an investigation immediately, and immediately communicate to all states and localities receiving ARPA funds, reiterating that they may not use those funds to build or expand jails, prisons, or other detention facilities and that there will be consequences for doing so. We are available to discuss the matters in this letter…”

In 2021, ARPA established the Coronavirus State Fiscal Recovery Fund and the Coronavirus Local Fiscal Recovery Fund, which appropriated $350 billion to be distributed to state, tribal, and local governments in response to the devastating impact of COVID-19 on their communities, residents, and businesses.

The ACLU cites subsequent misappropriation of ARPA funds in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Iowa, Indiana, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, and Oklahoma to illegally build and expand prisons and jails.

“State and local governments that accept federal dollars under specific conditions break the law and violate the constitution when they use that to support systems that directly contradict the terms of their acceptance,” said Tammie Gregg, deputy director of the ACLU National Prison Project. “These same funds, that are desperately needed by the communities impacted most negatively by the pandemic, are being used illegally to build and expand prisons and jails. This letter not only identifies that problem, it provides a solution to open an investigation into these allegations immediately. Our goal is not to just articulate these issues, but to provide meaningful and tangible ways to solve them.”

The letter can be found here:

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