Alabama Voters Say At Least One Sheriff Won't Be Enriching Himself With Federal Inmate Food Funds

from the fixing-the-law-one-county-at-a-time dept

Things will get a little less crooked in part of Alabama in the near future. Sheriffs will no longer be able be able to personally benefit from federal funds meant to feed the state’s prisoners.

More than one sheriff in the state had been caught starving prisoners while picking up nice things for themselves with the leftover money. Weirdly, this is all legal under state law, which allows personal use of unused food funds by sheriffs running the state’s jails.

Three consecutive sheriffs in Morgan County found themselves in legal trouble for taking advantage of state law. One was hit with a consent decree forbidding county sheriffs from taking home food funds. The next two sheriffs decided to ignore this legal agreement, with one of them earning the nickname “Sheriff Corndog” from his underfed prisoners. The third in line — continuing a 16-year tradition of ignoring the 2001 consent decree — raised the bar on county sheriff legal troubles by giving $160,000 in federal food funds to a corrupt car dealership run by a former felon.

A sheriff in Etowah County also brought down the heat on himself by taking home $250,000 a year in federal food funds that were supposed to be used to feed inmates. The $750,000 that managed to be accounted for is likely only a small part of the sheriff’s total take. According to public records, Sheriff Todd Entrekin managed to acquire $1.7 million in property while officially taking home a $93,000 salary.

In Cullman County, this loopholicious law has been closed. As Zuri Davis of Reason reports, voters have decided one local sheriff won’t be making himself richer at the expense of the inmates he oversees. Strangely enough, this amendment — which passed with 88% of the vote — had the support of the local sheriff.

Sheriff Matt Gentry decried the practice as ruining the reputation of Alabama sheriffs. He instead touted support for the Sheriff’s Food Bill, or Local Amendment 1. The amendment sought to add a constitutional protection to make the use of the funds more transparent. Under the amendment, the money would be placed in a public account and all excess funds would go toward law enforcement operations like deputy equipment. The account would also be subject to an audit by the state every two years.

It’s good to see someone recognize a problem and do something to fix it, rather than view the problem as an opportunity to be taken advantage of. This doesn’t change anything anywhere else in the state. Certainly the Alabama legislature is aware of the negative press but it still seems reluctant to amend the law that allows local law enforcement officials to behave in a manner befitting crooked cops. Until it does, sheriffs will continue to make themselves look bad and legislators look complicit.

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Comments on “Alabama Voters Say At Least One Sheriff Won't Be Enriching Himself With Federal Inmate Food Funds”

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Coyne Tibbets (profile) says:

It might not do much for the prisoners though:

…all excess funds would go toward law enforcement operations like deputy equipment.

So, then, after the prisoners have been fed "enough" (read: starvation ration) then the rest goes into the shiny DOD 1033 program gear…which will then be sold off for cool, non-public, cash.

Why not use the excess to feed the homeless? We know they wouldn’t prioritize that over the prisoners.

XcOM987 (profile) says:

Re: Re: prisoner food -- Welcome back "Bill" after 30 months!

Do you have anything at all to add to, critisise or critque constructivly about Bill’s post? Just because people don’t post often doesn’t make their post less relevant, post count and frequency does not make quality posts.

I expect a dig in return for my low post count and not posting frequently, but what do I know, I only got on editors choice for funny comments of the week once hahaha.

Michael (profile) says:

I don’t understand how there are excess funds.

You know how many prisoners you have. You know how much staff you need for preparation and distribution of food, and you know how much food each prisoner is going to be served. Can’t these guys use a calculator and get a pretty accurate budget?

Once the prisoners are fed, if there happen to be leftovers, why not feed the homeless?

James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: Re:

You really don’t understand the process.

The budget is set in advance of the year. You can’t get a perfect understanding of how many people will be in prison in DEC in NOV of the previous year. So you have to estimate. And because of how government budgets work, they can’t budget $X/head, they budget a lump sum. But the budget doesn’t specify exactly what is purchased, nor does it specify how much to be purchased for. The law allowed the sheriff to make meal plans or purchasing agreements that did not spend the entire budget. Or, there might be excess because prison population is lower than expected. Or prison population was high, the sheriff developed a plan and got a supplier to keep food within budget, but now population is going down and the plan is still in place.

You almost never can budget to the penny. The preference would be for you to be under budget when your revenue matches your budget.

The issue of course, is what happened to the remaining budget. The law incentivized skimping on the meal plan to line your own pockets. The incentives still aren’t great, but transparency will help.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

all excess funds would go toward law enforcement operations

There is still plenty of incentive to underfeed the prisoners. Nothing will change for them. The sheriff will now have to share his ill-gotten gains with the entire department.

I predict this county sheriff’s office will have the latest equipment and vehicles, probably more than they can use, within a year. That may not be so terrible but they’ll have to spend next year’s profits on something, too, and the year after that and the year after that and…

The excess should be returned or at the very least cause a reduction in budget the following year. That excess should be put aside for when the budget isn’t enough to feed the prisoners. But of course this isn’t how this country spends taxpayer funds.

James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Non sequitor much? I am unsure why you are responding about the reform’s failure to successfully address poor incentives to my commentary on the budgetary process. The start of your commentary does not follow from mine, and while the end somewhat relates to my procedural discussion, feels a bit out of left field targeted at me, as I did not state that this reform would result in better prisoner treatment. I in fact noted that the incentives are still skewed, but that I had hopes that transparency would provide a corrective effect over the next few elections, if not in so many words.

James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

A response to concur should make clear that attempt. Its lack of connection to my words is just as serious in a concurrence. You responded to me with a negative tone and no clear connection to the tread of my discussion. Your points were not seemingly connected to the comments of the OC either.

Your words made no sense as an extension of my commentary or the original commentary, and So I saw the negative, combative tone and assumed it must be a rebuttal of my commentary.

Your response leading with “there is still plenty of incentive…” is a potential critique of the reform, but has nothing to do with why prisons are capable of having excess budget, unless you are saying it is budgeted that way to create excess, in which case you are in fact rebutting me, but that point is lost in your commentary.

Sharur says:

Re: Re: Re: A better idea

Unfortunately that happens…and then the next year is inevitably bigger, because Murphy’s Law.

That’s why a lot of public agencies have a bad habit of wasting their budgets at the end of the (fiscal) year, to ensure that they receive their full budget in the next year.

Personally, a much better implementation is that the budget for the next year remains the same, and the surplus is returned to the general fund (or if ear-marked such as from federal funds or specific excise taxes, etc. then it should go to a special reserve fund for the ear-marked purpose).

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I always amuses me when people complain about the occasional non-tech story just because the word is in the title.

Do they complain at Taco Bell when they see something on the menu that’s not a taco? Whine at the New York Times when they cover a story that’s not related to New York? Complain when Fox News show yet another story that’s not related to small carnivorous mammals?

ryuugami says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I always amuses me when people complain about the occasional non-tech story just because the word is in the title.

Bah. What I really want to know is, where are all the DIRT stories?

Dammit Mike, I came here expecting farming and/or cleaning advice, and all you people talk about is "internet" and "free speech" and "government abuse".

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“four regulars, led by you, find that so harmful that have to respond. “

Sane people would, of course, recognise that there was a conversation involved between those people, and that it did not indicate in any way that any of the participants found the original comment harmful.

Are you so starved of meaningful human interaction that you think that the only reason people would converse is to try to protect themselves from harm?

Anonymous Coward says:

Strangely enough, this amendment — which passed with 88% of the vote — had the support of the local sheriff.

This isn’t all that strange. If he wasn’t benefiting from it anyway, he loses nothing by its passage, and gains positive political coverage for his support. There’s no way to look good supporting the abuse that the other sheriffs committed, so his rational choices were support reform or ignore the reform bill. Since the new version redirects the money to a use that may well benefit his department (and indirectly, him) without being so politically toxic, it’s better for him to support this than to risk that this fails, and public ire leads to a version which directs funds to a cause he would rather not receive any more money (not necessarily any of the purposes proposed in the comments here – I don’t know his politics or what causes he would consider to be undesirable).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

On the other hand, in light of the other sheriff’s trend toward corruption and the at least currently publicly visible attitudes of those in command positions of law enforcement, it could be considered “strange” in terms of going against the current observed norm.

It’s certainly a good, logical position for the sheriff to take, and even if he isn’t being motivated entirely by the right reasons, I applaud him for making this stand.

I will also still call it “strange” given the general trend of publicly visible law enforcement moves.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Nice priorities there

Certainly the Alabama legislature is aware of the negative press but it still seems reluctant to amend the law that allows local law enforcement officials to behave in a manner befitting crooked cops.

How gutless do you have to be to not put forth a change to a bill that would be all but impossible to object to without the one putting forth the objections looking all sorts of corrupt?

I mean really, how trivial would it be to poke holes in a sheriff claiming that it’s only right that they underfeed the prisoners under their care if it means they get to bring home a new truck?

Their reluctance/indifference towards the problem would seem to indicate a rather unpleasant and inhumane view towards prisoners, such that atrocious treatment is really not that big of a deal, certainly nothing worth any effort on their part.

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