Forty-nine sheriffs in Alabama are facing a civil rights lawsuit after people complained they were provided inadequate, sometimes rotten, food in jail and the prison food funds landed in their sheriff’s pocket.
Since July 2017, two civil rights groups, the Southern Center for Human Rights and the Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, have been demanding Alabama sheriff show them their bookkeeping on prison meal funds.
And their reasoning behind the request is valid enough, if the two examples below are any indication.
Monroe County Sheriff Thomas Tate, who bowed down to the request, sent copies of his handwritten ledgers to the civil rights groups. They showed the sheriff’s office received a total of $423,364.60 in 2014, 2015 and 2016, that should have paid for 83,878 days of meals for prisoners. Of that amount, almost 25 percent, $110,459.77, was declared “excess” by Tate.
The amount of leftover funds increased each year, even though the per day amount paid to his office — $1.80 per state inmate per day, $5 per municipal inmate per day and $10 per federal inmate per day — did not change in the three-year period. In 2014, Tate got less than $29,000, while in 2016, he got over $44,000.
Meanwhile, Etowah County Sheriff Todd Entrekin has not provided his records about how funds are allocated to feed inmates. But a 20-year-old Gadsden resident, Matt Qualls, said the sheriff paid him $10 an hour to mow lawns in 2015, several times. He was paid with checks that read “Sheriff Todd Entrekin Food Provision Account.” After Qualls talked to a few people who came out of jail and told him prison food was particularly bad and they hardly ever got any meat, he surmised he was being paid with money that should have gone toward prison meals.
However, both the sheriffs insist they did not break any law and, in fact, were following it to the letter. Many Alabama sheriffs claim a 1939 state law allows them to personally retain taxpayer dollars as subsidiary income, if the money was in excess after providing for jailhouse food programs.
“I do it just like the law tells us to. That's about all I have to say about that,” Tate said during a brief phone interview with AL.com. "We feed all our inmates good and the excess goes to the sheriff. If you declare it excess, you take it and you pay taxes on it."
“The law says it's a personal account and that's the way I've always done it and that's the way the law reads and that's the way I do business,” said Entrekin. “That's the way the law's written.”
The law, in fact, does not allow sheriffs to keep money that is allocated for the inmates’ meals. Civil rights group argue such an interpretation creates incentives for exploitation and leads to the misuse of hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of taxpayer money — as in these cases. The end result is that inmates are served low-quality food with next to no nutrition across the states and it ultimately results in poor health of prisoners.
Aaron Littman of the Southern Center for Human Rights, believes the excess money should instead be turned over to the county government — a practice that many counties follow.
That seems to be a much better use of the money. No doubt if the citizens of Alabama hear their hard-earned money is going to fatten up the already bloated pockets of their county’s sheriff, they would certainly not be amused.
Thumbnail/Banner Credits: Reuters