Criminal Justice

Alabama food fight

Photograph by AP Photo / David Goldman

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey is calling on lawmakers to change a state law that some sheriffs have cited to keep food funds that aren’t spent on inmate meals.

Ivey called for a change in the law as she directed the state comptroller to stop paying a portion of the food money, about $4,000 a year in food service allowance for each sheriff, into the personal bank accounts of sheriffs, the Associated Press reports. But that’s not the only pot of money that sheriffs are accessing. The New York Times, NPR and also have stories.

The food service money amounted to $205,000 last year, while about $8 million a year is used to buy food. Some sheriffs are keeping the unspent money under a state law that says sheriffs can “keep and retain” leftover money from feeding programs.

Ivey said the food service money was going to the sheriffs’ personal accounts as a result of a 2008 opinion by the state attorney general. Ivey said the state should instead be following a contrary opinion by a different state attorney general in 2011.

The larger pot of food money has been deposited into the sheriffs’ county accounts, unless the counties have passed laws taking over the job of feeding inmates. In those counties, the money is deposited into county government accounts.

One sheriff, Todd Entrekin of Etowah County, kept more than $750,000 in inmate food money over a three-year period, reported in March. He lost his primary bid for re-election.

Two civil rights groups sued 49 Alabama sheriffs in January in an effort to learn whether they personally pocketed leftover inmate meal money. The suit says that keeping meal money for personal use creates a perverse incentive to spend as little as possible on the feeding the inmates.