Alabama Sheriff In Court For Starving Inmates, Paying Critic's Grandson To Install Keylogger On Her Computer

from the just-make-it-out-to-'cash'-and-save-everyone-the-hassle dept

A number of statutes and practices have created perverse incentives for law enforcement, but none are nearly so blatant as this Alabama state law governing the feeding of inmates. The law, passed over 100 years ago, says law enforcement personnel — mainly sheriffs — can keep whatever’s left over from state and federal inmate food stipends. This doesn’t mean the leftover money is routed to a general fund or used to defray law enforcement/jail-related expenses. No, this means the money flows from taxpayers, (mostly) bypasses prisoners, and ends up in sheriffs’ personal checking accounts. (via Radley Balko)

This legalized skimming has resulted in the obvious: underfed inmates and sheriffs with overfed bank accounts. The law first received national attention in 2008, when Morgan County sheriff Greg Bartlett found himself in federal court, defending himself against a lawsuit brought by his prisoners. Inmates were dropping weight and going hungry while Bartlett increased his personal income by $212,000 over three years, taking home a great deal of the $1.75 per prisoner per day state funds. (Federal prisoners housed in state jails are allowed $3 per day, which can also be rerouted to sheriffs’ checking accounts.)

This resulted in Bartlett spending one night in his own jail. Even then, Sheriff Bartlett was violating an earlier consent decree with the federal government, which ordered his office to use *all* food funds for feeding inmates. The agreement Bartlett reached with the court (after a night in jail) promised his office would do the same thing: spend all the funds on food, rather than diverting them for personal use.

Even with two consent decrees in place and a previous sheriff being hauled into court for personally profiting from inmates’ hunger, another Morgan County sheriff (Ana Franklin) has repeated her predecessor’s misdeeds.

At that hearing, the sheriff’s attorneys are expected to argue that a years-old consent decree in a lawsuit against the county does not apply to Franklin and she shouldn’t be held in contempt. The decree says the Morgan County Sheriff must spend all food funds on inmate meals. The decree was issued in 2009 after Franklin’s predecessor was jailed for contempt. Former Sheriff Greg Bartlett was dubbed “Sheriff Corndog” because he profited more than $200,000 while inmates ate corndogs twice a day for weeks. The consent decree stemmed from a 2001 lawsuit against the county and then-Sheriff Steve Crabbe by inmates decrying conditions inside the jail.

A court hearing was scheduled last month when the Center filed a motion saying Franklin should show cause for why she shouldn’t be held in contempt of the decree. The center argued that Franklin should have been held in contempt after removing $160,000 from the inmate food account. The sheriff loaned $150,000 of the money to a now-bankrupt, corrupt used car dealership, Priceville Partners, LLC, that was co-owned by Greg Steenson, a convicted felon.

Franklin is trying to convince the court she should be allowed to continue starving inmates and financing criminal business ventures. While Sheriff Franklin was helping prop up localbusiness corruption, inmates were dealing with this reality:

The [Southern Center for Human Rights] is arguing Franklin should not be allowed to keep any of the food funds and has included in court documents statements from inmates who describe inadequate food portions and unappetizing or hazardous servings. Inmates reported finding rocks, a nail and mold in food served at the jail.

“Many grievances note that entire cell blocks were fed reduced or watered-down portions — a tiny amount of soup, a spoonful of grits, five or six green beans or carrot slices as a vegetable serving, a sandwich with half of a slice of cheese on it, and the like — because the kitchen lacked enough food to serve everyone the portions listed on the menu,” according to court records filed by the Center.

Starving prisoners to fund personal business ventures isn’t the only thing Sheriff Franklin’s accused of doing, though. A longtime critic of Franklin — blogger/business owner Glenda Lockhart — has also filed a lawsuit against the sheriff, alleging a number of constitutional violations.

The lawsuit accuses Franklin of illegally obtaining information to convince a judge to issue a search warrant for Lockhart’s home and business. Franklin has said her office seized computers and various other devices during an investigation into fired jail warden Leon Bradley, who has been accused of leaking documents to Lockhart for publication on the blog.

Lockhart’s blog was where Sheriff Franklin’s payments to the corrupt car dealership first appeared. In apparent retaliation, the sheriff allegedly engaged in some incredibly underhanded — and illegal — tactics in her attempt to obtain the blogger’s personal communications.

Lockhart claims Franklin illegally gathered information for a search warrant by paying an informant to break-in, hack and steal data from her home and business offices. Lockhart owns Straightline Drywall and Acoustical, LLC in Falkville.

The informant, Lockhart’s grandson Daniel, said in a sworn statement that he was paid to install keylogger software on his grandmother’s computer. The software, he said, was provided by the sheriff’s office, according to a transcript from a November 2016 deposition.

Daniel Lockhart’s statement also said the sheriff told him she was only interested in going after the former warden who was leaking documents and that Daniel’s grandmother wouldn’t be targeted. His statement also points out he was paid directly by the sheriff and one of her deputies a total of $500 to perform this “investigative” work for them.

There appears to be corruption all over the place in Morgan County, Alabama. But it all starts with a bad law state lawmakers are in no hurry to take off the books. Despite multiple federal lawsuits stemming from sheriffs’ starve-and-skim tactics, the incredibly perverse incentive remains intact. There are probably plenty of taxpayers who don’t like the idea of their money being used to food and house convicted criminals, but I doubt any of those taxpayers are happier knowing they’re padding sheriffs’ bank accounts and investing in shady businesses.

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Comments on “Alabama Sheriff In Court For Starving Inmates, Paying Critic's Grandson To Install Keylogger On Her Computer”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

"We can't punish them, that would be unfair!"

The court needs to hand out some actual punishments if they want this sort of corruption to stop. Enough with the ‘No really, you need to feed the inmates’, force the individual sheriffs to pay back every single penny, and/or hit them with hefty jail time of their own.

Getting rid of the insanely stupid law would be a good second step, but the first really needs to be punishment for those abusing it for their own gain.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: "We can't punish them, that would be unfair!"

The legal system is extremely slow to get rolling. In this case it seems likely that the media in Alabama can get a few well-researched controversy stories out of the problematic distribution of funds as well as the other happenings.

It is completely unacceptable for a sheriff to investigate a leak that incriminates herself/himself. At the very least that act on its own is beyond a doubt morally corrupt. Those things are why IA and FBI exists – to avoid these conflicts of interest!

Andy says:

Re: Re:

I will take a wild guess here but i bet that most involve in this scam are republican supporters or members of the republican party…Prisons are there for one reason only take away a persons right to freedom for a limited time, they are not there to punish anyone they are there to ensure inmates remain in the prison the judge has sent them to….Prisons in some of the most peaceful countries in the world give their prisoners tv’s in their cells then allow them to have their family purchase and give them games consuls and computers and even phones….and they have a very low re-offending prison population.

Prisons are only there to detain and make sure prisoners do not have there freedom of movement and do not have any rights to punish prisoners in any other way..

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Yeah, its just republicans, because there are no racism or bad prisons in Boston or NYC, even though those are more segregated cities than anywhere in the south, and we know they also vote republican. Guess who has the most segregated schools in America? Spoiler, its NYC.

Oh and Andy, a lot of prisons in the US are not there to detain or rehabilitate someone, they are there to warehouse and keep them away from “normal” citizens because they are hardened criminals that are not safe. Some of those people are scary dangerous and should never see the light of day.

Anonymous Coward says:

I can’t even find any words to describe this properly…
No matter what crime they have committed, it is just not okay in any way to do this.
I hear a lot of people who don’t get this simple fact that criminals aren’t in prison only to get punished. The punishment is that they have their freedom taken away.
The main focus must be to rehabilitate and funny enough, that includes treating them as actual human beings. Rehabilitation is not just for them, but for the good of society as a whole.

Even if we take the prisoners health and well being out of the picture, I would like to know if there have been any riots during this time where employees have been hurt, because that would seem very likely it could be the fault of those greedy bastards lining their bank accounts. I would sure as heck join or start a riot if they were starving me.

Frankly, I don’t see the big difference between these sheriffs and the dictators and fascists in countries that the US would very much not like to be compared to.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I would like to know if there have been any riots during this time where employees have been hurt, because that would seem very likely it could be the fault of those greedy bastards lining their bank accounts. I would sure as heck join or start a riot if they were starving me.

Starvation is actually a very good control tool, because if you are starving, you can’t resist or riot.

Of course, the last group that used this were Nazi’s in concentration camps (note to Spicey, they are concentration camps, not holocaust centers)

Anonymous Coward says:

“The law, passed over 100 years ago, says law enforcement personnel — mainly sheriffs — can keep whatever’s left over from state and federal inmate food stipends.”

I do not care how many words they put on paper (aka “law”), it is not ok to embezzle. This is theft, keep it up and it becomes grand larceny. Either way, it is a felony.

Some of these backwoods billies think they can make their own laws and do whatever they please.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Who are the backwoods billies?

Some of these backwoods billies think they can make their own laws and do whatever they please.

These are NOT backwoods billies, these are following closely in the footsteps of POTUS, US Senators, US Congressmen, Senior TLA’s (CIA, FBI, NSA, DHS, IRS, etc) and prominent business men and women.

The only backwoods billies around are those who think there is an actual high standard of justice and have a strong and abiding belief in the US Constitution.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Who are the backwoods billies?

“The only backwoods billies around are those who think there is an actual high standard of justice and have a strong and abiding belief in the US Constitution.”

You mean those people who voted for POTUS, US Senators, US Congressmen who then appoint Senior TLA’s (CIA, FBI, NSA, DHS, IRS, etc) ?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Who are the backwoods billies?

My initial response was “No”, but on second reading, is “Maybe”. It depends on how many of those people actually thought about what they were doing and who they were voting for. I am not talking about the die-hard party line voters, but those who actually care about what happens – those who care about the constitution – those backwoods billies.

streetlight (profile) says:

If you spend no money on food...

…all the money received is “left over money” and then the sheriff can keep all of it. Whoever wrote the law didn’t think to add that the left over money must go to the general fund of the county to pay for whatever the county usually pays for like salaries, road repair, etc. The law was probably slipped in an obscure paragraph of a legislative body’s annual, 100 page bill funding something like the annual state budget.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: If you spend no money on food...

Better yet, any left over food money should go into repairs or things for the Inmates. Really though, there shouldn’t be much of any left over money as the people were starving.

One thing is for sure, the law is a load of crap. It invites a person to cut costs at any expense to fatten their own personal bank account. How the hell that law even passed?

Michael (profile) says:

Re: If you spend no money on food...

Remember, you are talking about the late 1800’s and early 1900’s in Alabama when this law was passed.

The number of prisoners was probably pretty low, and Sheriff was probably not well paid (and possibly part-time), and they were an elected official. I would guess that the law was intended to effectively buy the Sheriff food using portions of the prisoner stipend.

While it is clearly a bad law today, it may not have been quite as overwhelmingly stupid at the time it was passed.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Yup, this story has “gotcha” politics written all over it.

Why shouldn’t the sheriff be allowed to embezzle public funds? All his buddies in higher office do it so it must be ok as they are the ones who told him he could do it too.

We need to stop focusing on this sort of thing and concentrate on how to provide the uber riche with the constant flow of cash that they need to supply their habits. Please people – think of the rich for a change, they need your support and your money … and your car and your house and your pension and your 401k and you had better sign up for the armed services and give up your life to ensure said monetary flow.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

A better question is why does Tim Cushing have so many opportunities to write articles about authority figures being douches?

This isn’t a Trump issue obviously, so stop fucking blaming Trump and the current administration. All this was obviously going on in the past (and yes, under Obama) so stop thinking this is a dem/repub, backwoods (yes, crap happens in NYC/Boston/San Fran. too) issue.

Why do you seem to have no fucking problem with people violating the Constitution?

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