We apologize up front for the length of the blog. Decatur Daily did an excellent job with their editorial. As always, we are long winded and would like to get our own input out there.
Decatur Daily Editorial
Jail food law needs repeal
The decades-old law that allows county sheriffs to pocket
leftover inmate food money for their own benefit is back in the news, reminding
all why it's a bad law and should be repealed.
The state law that allows county sheriffs to keep unspent jail
food money to supplement their own pay is a relic of a bygone age and should be
repealed. But the same dysfunctional system in Montgomery that makes almost any
meaningful reform impossible stymies any attempt to abolish the food money
Blogger Comments: The Daily is right on the money. The
inmate food funds should not be a means to supplement the sheriffs of Alabama's
pay. What incentive does a sheriff have to feed nutritional meals to
inmates with a law such as this on the books? We believe that we have a
lot of honest sheriffs in the State of Alabama that have no intent to deprive
their inmates of nutritional meals. However, what we have seen here in
Morgan County and across the state is some greedy sheriffs who can't keep their
hands off the cookie jar. We get angry over animal shelters that abuse
animals in their care, we punish those who abandon animals, and starve chained
animals, it is time we also focus on sheriffs across the state that abuse
inmates by depriving them of nutritional meals.
The 1939 law that allows sheriffs to pocket money left over
after feeding jail inmates dates to when most county jails were little more
than Andy Griffith’s drunk tank. Now, however, county jails are mini-prisons,
housing inmates for extended periods, up to years in some cases, and taking in
inmates from crowded state and federal lockups.
Blogger Comments: So true again Daily. We must focus on
the future of Morgan County. All cities within Morgan County
pay the sheriff's office to house their inmates. The bloggers believe
that Sheriff Franklin has shown her true colors. We still do not know how
much money Franklin has taken from the inmate food funds since taking office.
One thing the bloggers are confident of is that the June 2015 removal of
$160,000.00 was not the first time. Time will tell.
As a result, jail food money can add up.
For example, an audit by the Alabama Department of Public
Accounts, which covered a 2½-year period ending May 31, 2014, showed a final
balance of $199,204.82 in the Morgan County Jail inmate food account. The
Sheriff’s Office received $778,373 and spent $717,681.88 to feed inmates during
the 30-month audit period, the audit showed.
That’s roughly a $60,000 difference in what was taken in and what
was spent over those 30 months.
Blogger Comments: $778,204.82 seems like a lot of money to
feed inmates over a 30-month time frame but it takes a lot of money to provide
nutritional meals to a jail filled to capacity.
Morgan County Sheriff Ana Franklin is currently involved in a
legal dispute over whether a consent degree prohibiting her predecessor from
pocketing unspent food money applies to her as well. Regardless of what happens
in this instance, the law needs to go.
Blogger Comments: This issue should not have happened.
Franklin knew prior to taking office that the funds are untouchable.
What we can't understand is why Franklin did not have her attorney submit
a request to the Federal Judge and request access to those funds prior to just
taking them. As it turns out the Federal Consent Decree was not even a
deterrent in keep the sheriff out of the food funds. In most cases
when a judge rules on a case, the Judge's orders are final.
Allowing county sheriffs to keep unspent food money for their
personal benefit creates perverse intensives. First, it creates an incentive to
feed inmates — many of whom are awaiting trial and thus still innocent until
proven guilty — on the cheap. A judge held that Franklin’s predecessor, Greg
Bartlett, was so excessive in that regard that all designated food money had to
be spent on inmates.
Blogger Comments: When all is said and done in regards to the
inmate food funds alone, we do not believe Bartlett's use of inmate food funds
will hold a candle to Franklin's use of the food funds. Again, Decatur
Daily is right on the money. Each inmate is innocent until
proven guilty. Either way whether the inmate is innocent or guilty,
their punishment is being in jail, not to be fed on the cheap.
Second, it creates an incentive to maximize jail occupancy, and
the Morgan County Jail is certainly occupied. The current jail opened in 2006
in response to crowding and deteriorating conditions at the old jail, and it
already has had a major expansion in order to take in more inmates from the
now-closed Decatur City Jail.
Blogger Comments: The Daily is right on the money again.
Not only is the act of creating the inmate food funds an incentive to
maximize jail occupancy, it has maximized the jail occupancy.
Right now, there is a large number of inmates sleeping on what the
sheriff's office calls boats laying on the floor of the jail.
One need not be a trained economist to see the danger in such an
incentive structure, but that doesn’t mean the Legislature or county
commissions are eager to do anything about it.
Blogger Comments: Both the Legislature and the county
commissions would rather allow sheriff's in the State of Alabama to let the
inmates go hungry than to act to repeal a law that should not exist. The
Legislature does not want to go up against the Alabama Sheriff's
Association because of the perceived power they have within the state.
The bloggers know firsthand that the Alabama Sheriff's Association has no
problem pushing their weight around. Instead of being intimidated, we
posted the letter on the blog. Maybe the bloggers are too naive to be
intimidated. As to the sheriffs in the State of Alabama they have more power
over their office and how they spend their money than any other agency within
the state. So, are we to believe that the Legislature and the county
commission are too intimidated to take on the Alabama Sheriff's Association and
some greedy sheriffs? What about the inmates?
Franklin is on both the Alabama Sheriff's Association
Committee and the National Sheriff's Association Committee and so far, she
has their backing. What that tells us that the Legislature, the county
commission, sheriff's associations, and at least some of the Top Cops in
Alabama find it acceptable to take the inmate food funds as their own personal
funds and let the inmates go hungry.
Franklin has been over paid since taking office in 2011, she rarely
makes it into work. Most sheriffs enjoy the luxury of doing a little meet
and greet with their constituency. Many folks enjoy walking into the
sheriff's office and speaking to the sheriff about their loved one who is
incarcerated and having the sheriff assure them that their loved one has
nutritional meals and proper care. When Franklin does make a
cameo appearance to the sheriff’s office, she goes in through the
side door so she does not have to interact with the families visiting their
Rep. Allen Treadaway, R-Morris, said there have been no attempts
by the Legislature to change the law since his failed attempt in 2009.
Legislators are shy about trying to change the law because of a potential
“political battle” with sheriffs and county commissioners in their districts,
The state’s sheriffs “flooded” committee meeting rooms when his
bill was being considered, he said.
Sheriffs, understandably, don’t want to take what amounts to a
pay cut. County commissions don’t want to pony up more money directly from
taxpayers to make up the difference. And lawmakers in Montgomery don’t want to
deal with either group’s complaints.
Blogger Comments: Of course the sheriffs flooded the
committee meetings. If the sheriffs want a pay raise, contact the
Limestone County Sheriff Mike Blakely, at 256-232-0111 for advice, or sit down
and prepare documentation that justifies the pay increase. We the
citizens of the State of Alabama should be appalled that the public officials
we elected have no desire to ensure that the inmates in the State of Alabama
are fed nutritional meals. Instead the elected officials such as the
county commissions and the Legislature sit on the sidelines accepting the
situation because it is not their problem. Well! County Commissions and Legislature,
it is your problem. In all fairness, the law stipulates that sheriffs
may take left over food funds. Unfortunately, the law has given
the sheriffs an incentive to ensure overcrowding in the jails is common place.
The more inmates the sheriffs have in custody, the more money they have
to pad their pockets. More money does not mean more nutritional meals for
There are exceptions. Limestone County Sheriff Mike Blakely gave
up pocketing unspent food money in 2010 when the Legislature passed a local law
tying his salary to the highest-paid circuit court judge in the county.
Blogger Comments: Blakely did give up the inmate food funds
after taking them legally for approximately 24 years. Maybe Blakely has a
conscience. We sure hope he does. Just a little private thought by
the bloggers. We can't help but wonder how many elected officials and
other law enforcement officers are willing to lie under oath for Sheriff Ana
Franklin? We are talking about placing your hand on the Bible and
swearing to tell the truth and nothing but the truth So Help Me God?
There is no double meaning to those words. There is no
splitting hairs, no little white lies with your fingers crossed. There is just the truth.
Other counties should follow Limestone’s example.
Sheriffs’ supplemental pay should not be left to what amounts to
skimming from funds intended for other purposes. It’s bad for law enforcement,
bad for inmates and possibly, in the long run, bad for taxpayers.
Blogger Comments: We saved one of the most important comments
for last. Who suffers when the sheriff is allowed to skim funds from the inmate’s
food account? First and foremost, the inmates suffer from not receiving
nutritional meals including fresh vegetables and fruit. Many of the
inmates have medical conditions such as diabetics that require specific types
of food in their diet with additional snacks and juice throughout the day. Inmates whose religious believes do not allow them to eat certain foods.
Inmates who are suffering from cancer and other chronic diseases also
suffer. We must remember being in jail is the punishment. The
sheriff’s office is the inmates care giver. The buck currently stops with
the sheriff. Maybe that is why the county commissions and the
Legislatures does not want to get involved. It is easier to ignore a big
financial burden and let the inmates suffer than to fix the problem. What
does that say about our society? We allow the treatment of inmates to
suffer more than we would ever accept the suffering of our pets, wildlife, zoo
keepers, and marine life in captivity.
Now! What about the families who have to scrape up enough
money to keep their loved one’s fed in jail. Each week family after
family walks in the Morgan County Jail and adds money to their loved one’s
account so that they do not go hungry. A large portion of the money the
families put on the accounts goes into the sheriff’s funds. The same goes
for the funds families place on the telephone service for the jail. Did
we ever mention how many of those calls are dropped during the conversations?
More lost money for the families who are already struggling.