The Alabama Senate voted Tuesday to change a decades-old system that has allowed some sheriffs to pocket leftover jail food funds, a practice that has created concerns and scandals centering on whether inmates were being adequately fed.
The bill [SB228] by Republican Sen. Arthur Orr of Decatur abolishes old language in state law that says sheriffs can “keep and retain” leftover jail food money. It would increase the state allowance for feeding prisoners and require the food funds to be deposited into an account that can only be used for feeding prisoners.
Senators voted 31-0 for the bill. It now moves to the House of Representatives.
The proposed change comes after periodic scandals over the years involving the use of the money and the quality of food provided to inmates. A federal judge in 2009 briefly jailed a sheriff who was nicknamed “Sheriff Corndog” for feeding inmates corndogs and little else.
In September 2018, Etowah County Sheriff Todd Entrekin and his wife Karen purchased an orange four-bedroom house with an in-ground pool and canal access in an upscale section of Orange Beach for $740,000. Entrekin reported on forms he filed with the Alabama Ethics Commission that he made “more than $250,000” each of the past three years via inmate-feeding funds.
Orr said while most sheriffs have acted properly, the archaic system has led to abuses and lingering concerns. He said it was also important to increase the amount of money provided to feed inmates. “I had people contacting me saying they had to cook meals and take them to the jail to make sure their son or their grandson was adequately fed,” Orr said.
The bill would require jail food funds go to into a separate account that could only be used for feeding prisoners. Orr said a small portion of leftover funds could be used for law enforcement expenses, such as for guns or bulletproof vests. Leftover funds could not be used on salaries.
The bill also increases the daily amount paid by the state for feeding prisoners from $1.75 to $2.25 per inmate. It would increase by 2% each year to account for inflation.
Orr thanked state sheriffs for their help and support on the legislation.
Carla Crowder, executive director of the Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, said she hoped the proposed change would end an embarrassing chapter for the state.
Crowder said documented abuses have been limited to a few counties, but allowed a few sheriffs to profit from the mistreatment of inmates in their custody. Crowder said the amount of money provided for feeding inmates has not been adequate, and praised the decision to increase it.
“The $1.75 was not sufficient and has not been for a long time,” Crowder said.
Bibb County Sheriff Jody Wade said that “he would welcome an increase in jail food allowance from the present $1.75 per day to $2.25 per inmate”. Since he has been Sheriff he has found it impossible to feed inmates on what the law allows for his food budget, resulting in annual shortages averaging over $10,000 for the last 2 years. Wade says that the counties where federal prisoners are kept on contract receive a higher amount to feed prisoners and don’t have the food challenge that he has in Bibb County.