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Wednesday, June 28, 2017
My, how the winds do blow
Blogger Comments: Coming clean for Sheriff Franklin must be difficult. You heard it here first. Now the fox is in the hen house with the support of the Morgan County Commission. The next few months should be interesting.
Sheriff, county want to terminate jail food order
Morgan County Sheriff Ana Franklin and the Morgan County Commission want to terminate federal court orders regarding the treatment of prisoners at the Morgan County Jail.
The motion was filed in federal court on Tuesday, about an hour after the Morgan County Commission unanimously approved moving forward with the legal action.
The filing cited a 1996 federal law designed to create a legal pathway for jails to escape ongoing court orders after demonstrating compliance over a period of at least two years. It argued no further federal oversight is needed because the sheriff has demonstrated the prisoners’ constitutional rights are not being violated.
“I think that she’s proved we haven’t had inmates starving in a long time,” County Commission Chairman Ray Long said.
The most severe orders were implemented in 2009, when Franklin’s predecessor, Greg Bartlett, was held in contempt of court for failing to provide adequate nutrition to prisoners while testifying he legally pocketed $212,000 from state money intended for the feeding of inmates over a three-year period.
A 1939 state law allows most Alabama sheriffs to personally keep leftover food money as a supplement to their income.
After holding Bartlett in contempt, the court ordered that all state money intended for feeding prisoners be used for inmate nutrition. That provision was struck early this month as part of a settlement agreement between Franklin and the Southern Center for Human Rights, which represented a class of inmates in the litigation.
A provision requiring the Southern Center to monitor conditions at the jail, including inmate nutrition, was retained. If the court approves the motion filed Tuesday, that oversight would end.
Other provisions that would be struck include a requirement that the jail maintain a minimum of 102 jailers on staff, provisions regarding general jail conditions, access to a law library, and inmate health care. The jail currently has about 125 jailers on staff.
The earliest court orders date to 2001, and many of the provisions were met by the construction of a new county jail in 2006, county attorney David Langston said.
Franklin said Tuesday that federal oversight is no longer needed at the jail, and that terminating the orders would free jail administration from onerous monthly paperwork to demonstrate compliance.
“There’s a lot of time and effort that is spent every month with our staff having to do filings and fill out paperwork and those kinds of things,” she said.
Franklin also said she has no plans to cut standards at the jail if freed from federal oversight.
“We’ve gone over and above what the consent decree requires. The last thing anybody wants to do is go backward and then find ourselves in the same shape we’re in as far as having another one levied on us,” she said.
Langston acknowledged the settlement agreement between Franklin and the Southern Center had to an extent cleared the way for the latest court filing.
The settlement found Franklin was in civil contempt for removing $160,000 from a jail food account when the provision requiring all of the food money to be used for prisoner nutrition was still in effect.
In return for Franklin conceding contempt and paying a $1,000 fine, the Southern Center conceded that no ongoing violating of federal rights was occurring at the jail with regard to prisoner nutrition.
“Now that they’ve conceded it, it certainly makes it easier and cleaner going forward,” Langston said of the latest motion.
Sarah Geraghty, an attorney for the Southern Center, did not return requests for comment Tuesday, but she said earlier in the month that the center had agreed to that concession with “great reluctance” and only because the standard to prove the rule should be maintained was “exceedingly high.”
Franklin said she removed the money in an attempt to recoup a $21,000 cost overrun in the jail food account by investing $150,000 of it as a short-term loan in a used car dealership, Priceville Partners LLC. The company bankrupted, tying the money up.
Court records show the full $160,000 was returned to the jail food account before the Southern Center filed its motion for contempt.
Franklin said she relinquished all claims in the bankruptcy to one of the investors, Steven Ziaja, her former boyfriend and a member of her campaign committee in 2013, who repaid her the money.
“He felt a responsibility to repay me the money that was invested in that personally due to the information that I received from him as to that the money would be repaid within 30 days, that it was a short-term loan, and that he felt it was a good investment at the time,” she said.