The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine has joined with ACLU affiliates around the country in a letter to the U.S. Department of Treasury seeking an investigation into the widespread, improper use of COVID relief funds to build and expand jails and prisons, including the money allocated in Penobscot County.

“The American Rescue Plan Act was intended to support local governments in responding to the impacts of COVID-19 on their communities,” said Carol Garvan, legal director for the ACLU of Maine. “Instead, Penobscot County has improperly set aside nearly $1.2 million for jail construction projects. Those dollars were intended to support public health, to provide affordable housing, or to build critical infrastructure such as broadband access. The US Department of Treasury bars their use for building or expanding jails or prisons.”

The letter, which was sent on Jan. 18 to the US Department of Treasury, is available here.

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.”