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ACLU calls for investigation into misuse of pandemic relief funds in Penobscot County

The ACLU of Maine reportedly partnered with ACLU affiliates in other parts of the country in a letter issued to the U.S. Department of Treasury on Wednesday.

BANGOR, Maine — The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine is calling for a federal investigation into the misuse of COVID relief funds in Penobscot County.

The ACLU of Maine reportedly partnered with ACLU affiliates in other parts of the country in a letter issued to the U.S. Department of Treasury, a news release from ACLU said Thursday.

The letter, sent on Jan. 18, calls for 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," according to the release.

“The American Rescue Plan Act was intended to support local governments in responding to the impacts of COVID-19 on their communities,” Carol Garvan, legal director for the ACLU of Maine, said in Thursday's release. “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 U.S. Department of Treasury bars their use for building or expanding jails or prisons.”

The construction projects Penobscot County used the nearly $1.2 million toward included repairing the Penobscot County Jail elevator and control room, as well as a new body scanner, the letter states. 

According to the release, ACLU cites in the letter examples of other states that have used COVID relief funds improperly to expand jails and prisons, which the U.S. Department of Treasury prohibits.

The letter concluded with ACLU asking the department to open an investigation "immediately." 

ACLU also asked the department to reiterate to those receiving COVID relief funds to not use them for building and expanding jails and prisons, and that if so, there will be consequences.

In response, the Penobscot County Commissioners released the following statement:

"Penobscot County has allocated a portion of funds from the American Rescue Plan for important repairs to our correctional facility. These funds were allocated from the portion of ARPA funding which was released under the revised Treasury rules for county government capital expenditures.  4338 Federal Register / Vol. 87, No. 18 / Thursday, January 27, 2022 / Rules and Regulations

Penobscot County provided necessary repairs to our correctional facility to provide for the health and safety of our inmates and staff. Any further inquiries may be directed to Penobscot County Administrator Scott Adkins."

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