Kay Ivey mandates no more food funds in sheriff’s pockets

Inmate Food
Lunches are transported on an elevator upstairs to the prisoners, at the Etowah County Detention Center in Gadsden, Ala. [Photo Credit: Sarah Dudik/Gadsden Times, via AP, File]

After several reports this year of Alabama sheriff’s stealing and pocketing hundreds of thousands of dollars meant for inmates food rations, Governor Kay Ivey has said, “no more.”

On Tuesday, Ivey issued a memo to the state comptroller rescinding the Yellowhammer State’s policy of “paying prisoner food service allowances directly to sheriffs in their personal capacities.” Funds must now instead go straight to government accounts.

“For decades, sheriffs have made extra money – sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars – under a Depression-era system by feeding prisoners for only pennies per meal,” the Associated Press reported. The previous guidelines allowed sheriffs to use $1.75  a day to feed each prisoner, then pocket anything that was left over.

This practice led to Monroe County Sheriff Tom Tate to pocket $110,458 over the course of three years; and Etowah County Sheriff Todd Entrekin to collect $672,392 in 2015 and 2016.

Ivey’s legal team used 2011 ruling made by former Attorney General Luther Strange to back-up the new mandate. “Based on the facts presented, neither the sheriff nor the county may use the surplus for any purpose other than future expenses in feeding prisoners,” Strange had said.

The problematic precedent was previously set in 2008 when then-Attorney General Troy King ruled “the sheriff may retain any surplus from the food service allowance as personal income,” in a letter to Etowah County Commission Attorney James Turnbach.

Alabama has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world with 946 people imprisoned per 100,000 people in the state in prison or jail.

The state’s prison system has also faced some legal trouble. In 2014, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program filed a lawsuit against the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) to end the poor conditions in the state prison system, including the understaffing of both correctional and mental health workers.