Ala. counties vote to stop sheriffs keeping inmate food money
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey released memos earlier this year that sheriffs may no longer personally profit from a very small portion of jail food funds
By Greg Garrison
Alabama Media Group
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Two Alabama counties on Tuesday voted to stop sheriffs from keeping jail inmate food money.
“We’re very excited to see those results,” said Frank Knaack, executive director of the Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice. “Alabamians are sick of policing for profit.”
Cullman County and Morgan County both voted Tuesday by more than 86 percent on local amendments to stop sheriffs from keeping jail inmate food money.
“It shows the people of Alabama find this practice outrageous and believe this needs to end,” said Aaron Littman, staff attorney for the Southern Center for Human Rights, which has been monitoring the issue.
The local amendments on the ballots in both counties addressed the issue of sheriffs contending state law permits them to keep money allocated to feed jail inmates for their own personal use. Some sheriffs have taken tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars for personal use, including the dramatic example of Etowah County Sheriff Todd Entrekin, who pocketed $750,000 intended to feed jailed inmates and bought a $740,000 beach house.
In Morgan County, Local Amendment One received 29,819 yes votes, or 86.45 percent, to 4,674 no votes, or 13.55 percent.
In Cullman County, Local Amendment One received 23,638 yes votes, or 87.75 percent, to 3,299 no votes, or 12.25 percent.
Alabama’s attorney general and governor have both rejected the interpretation by sheriffs that they could keep the money for personal use.
“Sheriffs who are taking money earmarked for jail food are doing so in violation of the law,” Knaack said. “Sheriffs continue to assert that the law doesn’t apply to them. We need to make sure that doesn’t continue.”
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. The state also gives a food service allowance. State law has said sheriffs can retain excess money, but there has been dispute over whether that means personally or in their official capacity.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey released memos earlier this year that sheriffs may no longer personally profit from a very small portion of jail food funds: those state funds allocated for services in preparing and serving food to people in their jails. The memos do not yet fully fix the problem of sheriffs personally pocketing these public funds, Knaack and Littman said.
“These are good first steps,” Littman said. “What needs to happen is statewide legislation making clear what the attorney general and governor have said, that this is public money and is to be used only for feeding prisoners.”