Ala. gov: Jail food funds can't go into sheriffs' pockets
Gov. Kay Ivey rescinded the state's 2008 policy of "paying prisoner food service allowances directly to sheriffs in their personal capacities"
By Kim Chandler
MONTGOMERY, Ala. — After some Alabama sheriffs profited large sums of money by skimping on jailhouse meals, Gov. Kay Ivey said Tuesday that the state will no longer give jail food funds to "sheriffs personally."
In a memo to the state comptroller, Ivey rescinded the state's 2008 policy of "paying prisoner food service allowances directly to sheriffs in their personal capacities." Ivey said the money should be directed to the county general fund or to an account established for the sheriff's official use.
"Public funds should be used for public purposes - it's that simple," Ivey said in a statement.
For years, some sheriffs have made extra money — sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars — under a Depression-era funding system that critics have argued gives a profit incentive to feed inmates poorly. A law passed in the days when chain gangs were common, gives sheriffs $1.75 a day to feed each prisoner and another statute said the sheriffs can "retain" excess money.
The move does not necessarily end the long-running dispute over sheriffs keeping leftover food funds, but changes the path that the state money flows. Ivey urged lawmakers to pass legislation in the upcoming session clarifying that sheriffs can't keep the money as personal income.
The controversy has centered on the meaning of "retain" and whether that means personally or for official use.
Ivey said the state should be following a 2011 attorney general's opinion that funds can only be used for "feeding prisoners." Her office said that trumped a 2008 opinion that said the sheriff can keep the money as "personal income" and set up the previous policy, instituted on May 1, 2008, of "paying the food service allowance to sheriffs as personal income."
"I have changed the way these funds are handled because it is the right thing to do," Ivey said. "The law is clear, the attorney general's opinion is clear, and now I have been clear. I urge the Legislature to follow my lead and codify this policy into law during the next regular session."
Ivey said she asked her legal office to review the validity of the policy of paying sheriffs directly after recent events. Some sheriffs have significantly boosted their income from excess food funds.
A federal judge in 2009 held Morgan County Sheriff Greg Bartlett, who made $212,000 over three years off excess food funds, in contempt of court for failing to feed inmates properly. Etowah County Sheriff Todd Entrekin, who lost re-election, released tax forms showing he made a profit of $672,392 from the jail kitchen in 2015 and 2016.