DISCLAIMER: This site does not collect or share any personal information from our readers. We do not ‘phish’ or ‘troll’ or track our loyal readers.
Thursday, January 31, 2019
More Good News! Alabama sheriffs want out of the jail food business
BLOGGER COMMENTS: Alabama Sheriffs as a group have long resisted any attempts to change the law regarding "leftover" food funds and the sheriff's empty pockets. Looks like praise the Lord for they have seen the light and there's change a-comin'. The story is lengthy but worth the time it takes to read it. BTW there was as 5-day training seminar for new sheriffs. Sure didn't know that.
Alabama’s sheriffs are pushing state lawmakers to get them out of the controversial jail food business.
“We just want to be free of the financial responsibility of feeding the inmates. We’ll still feed the inmates, but we want the county commissions to manage the money,” Bobby Timmons, executive director of the Alabama Sheriffs Association, said Wednesday. “The sheriffs shouldn’t be involved in that business.”
The association has written two draft bills aimed at resolving long-standing issues related to the feeding of inmates in county jails. The state Senate bill would end the practice of some sheriffs pocketing any leftover money intended to pay for jail food. The House version would increase the amount provided to feed state inmates in county jails with 250 or fewer beds from $1.75 to $3 per day.
The association’s leaders say the goal is to work with state legislators to come up with a final version of the legislation that addresses all of their concerns.
“We hope that in the legislative process we can come out of the legislative session with a law that increases the amount of money available to feed inmates,” Russell County Sheriff Heath Taylor, first vice president of the Alabama Sheriffs Association, told AL.comWednesday at the professional organization’s five-day training conference in Tuscaloosa, which is held once every four years.
“We also hope that this will resolve the question of when the state reimbursement doesn’t cover the amount needed to feed inmates – where does that money come from? Is it going to come from the county? Is it going to come from the state? Is it going to come from sheriffs’ discretionary funds?”
Sheriffs representing counties across the state are in conversation with legislators about securing sponsors for the draft bills, according to Timmons. He said he would like for the legislation to include language taking the responsibility for feeding county jail inmates away from sheriffs and granting it to county commissions, a legislative solution that the association unsuccessfully lobbied for in 2009.
Sonny Brasfield, executive director of the Association of County Commissions of Alabama, which was critical of the 2009 proposal, said his organization has been in “very regular communication” with the Alabama Sheriffs Association over the past year and that the two groups have “been together on what our goals are regarding amending” state laws regarding jail food funds.
“I think our concerns are mutual: first, that the money is public money and that it’s accounted for publicly, and that there’s enough money for the feeding to go forward in a productive and constructive manner. And I don’t think $1.75 is enough, quite honestly, especially in the smaller jails,” he said. “I don’t think we’re going into a legislative session on this issue where the sheriffs and the [county] commissioners are going to be at odds.”
The issue of feeding inmates in county jails has been a point of great controversy over the past year in light of the scandals over sheriffs in Etowah and Morgan counties pocketing thousands of dollars worth of public funds allocated to feed inmates in their jails.
In August, Gov. Kay Ivey took a step aimed at curbing the practice of some sheriffs keeping jail food money. As a result, in order to receive inmate-feeding funds from the state, sheriffs have been required since Sept. 1 to sign an “oath” that they will only spend the money on “food for prisoners in the county jail” and “preparing food, serving food and other service incident to the feeding of prisoners.” Ivey’s office did not return a call seeking comment Wednesday.
The Alabama Sheriffs Association has gone one step further, requiring as of Sept. 1 that sheriffs use discretionary funds to pay for any inmate-feeding expenses that are not covered by the state allocation, and that they deposit any excess jail food funds in sheriff’s office discretionary accounts that can only be tapped to pay for expenses directly related to law enforcement.
“We could have said we’re going to keep doing it how we’ve been doing it until the legislature addresses it. But this association took the stance to stop the perception and stop any profits the sheriffs make from feeding the inmates,” Taylor said. “We’ve stopped it. The personal stuff is over.”
But the association and many individual sheriffs say that any new legislation should also include a provision to increase the amount allocated by the state to feed inmates, a concern that is addressed in the House version of the association’s draft legislation.
Sheriffs currently receive $1.75 per day to feed state inmates in their county jails. Some sheriffs – particularly those representing low-population counties with small jail populations, who cannot save large sums of money by buying in bulk – say that amount is not enough.
“It’s costing us a little more than $5 per day” to feed inmates, Clarke County Sheriff Ray Norris said during a discussion of the issue at the Tuscaloosa conference on Tuesday.
Taylor and Simmons said they will work to ensure that legislators find a way to boost the per diem amount allocated by the state to feed inmates. They added that a final version of the bill should include a provision to increase the salaries of sheriffs who will take home less money if the responsibility for feeding inmates – and the associated personal financial benefits that some sheriffs have enjoyed for years – is taken away from them.
“Going forward, the allowance for feeding inmates has to go up,” Taylor said. “We also have to address the salaries of the 55 sheriffs whose income will be negatively affected.”
A number of counties, including Jefferson and Montgomery, already oversee the feeding of inmates in their jails, so their sheriffs do not stand to lose any financial benefit under the legislative solutions currently being considered.
Aaron Littman, a staff attorney at the Southern Center for Human Rights – which has sued sheriffs for inmate-feeding records and is working with state Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, on their own version of state legislation aimed at fixing the inmate-feeding process – expressed support for boosting the per diem amount, saying that if the decades-old allocation of $1.75 per day were adjusted for inflation, it would be about $7.30 today.
“Additional appropriations would go a long way towards ensuring that people in jail are being fed sufficient quantities of nutritious food,” he said via email Wednesday.
He said that it is “high time that the legislature confirms what the Attorney General and Governor have already said: jail foods funds should be spent only on feeding prisoners ... All involved agree that reform is required. A bill should be passed mandating that these taxpayer dollars be spent for their appropriated purpose.”