Alabama law enables sheriff to eat well

Under an Alabama law passed before World War II, many county sheriffs can keep what are deemed extra sums allocated for inmate meals but not used for that purpose. Some large counties require the surplus to be turned over to general county funds. Can sheriffs of other counties convert the funds to personal use? In Etowah County (Gadsden), a local resident says he was paid to mow the sheriff’s lawn with checks from from the sheriff’s “Food Provision Account.” [Connor Sheets,] And in a followup, four days later local police arrested the resident who had told the reporter about being paid for lawn-mowing. The raid, said to have been based on an anonymous call reporting the odor of marijuana issuing from within an apartment, resulted in charges against him later bumped up to felony drug trafficking based on weight: “Once that marijuana was mixed with the butter then the whole butter becomes marijuana, and that’s what we weighed.” [Sheets,]


  • Radley Balko at The Watch has an article about one Alabama Sheriff using the meal money to buy a vacation home.

    It should be noted that sheriff’s county hired a contractor to provide meals for inmates using money from a different fund without making any effort to recoup the sheriff’s meal money.

  • Hmmm. Sounds like the IRS needs to look into the Sheriff. If personal expenses were being paid with this money, it it income to the Sheriff and hence taxable.

    • 1. Alabama state law (and it’s state money at issue) explicitly allows sheriffs to pocket any left over meal money. There’s a comment over at the article on The Watch that said that the reason the law was passed is because at the time, the sheriff’s in Alabama had relatively low salaries.

      2. In the specific case I brought up, the county relieved the Sheriff of any need to spend any of the state money allocated to him for prisoner meals on feeding the prisoners in his jail.

      3. Do you have any specific reason to believe the sheriff didn’t report the money as income? If not then what the hell are you raising the issue for?

      • @MattS: You want to know why that issue could be raised? While there’s nothing specific and we have no way of knowing what he put on his returns, he’s paying at least one personal expense with a check directly from that fund. Like he doesn’t want the money to actually touch his personal accounts. So perhaps it’s on the level of a contractor who asks to be paid in cash – it’s perfectly legal and there are innocent explanations for that, but it’s also what someone who didn’t want to report income might do. I would hope a sheriff would obey the law, but perhaps people are less likely to give him the benefit of the doubt when he’s doing something that *feels* like stealing from inmates (even though it’s perfectly legal.)

        It’s also possible to unintentionally make a mistake in reporting when doing things that way (writing a bunch of small checks for various expenses, instead of one big check to yourself), since you have to remember whether each check was for personal expenses or not, and add them up.

        I’ll add that it’s not the sherrif’s fault that this dumb law exists; the law is over 70 years old, and he’d be silly not to take what he’s entitled to. It’s the Alabama legislature that needs to change it.

        • ” I would hope a sheriff would obey the law, but perhaps people are less likely to give him the benefit of the doubt when he’s doing something that *feels* like stealing from inmates ”

          Except in the vacation home case I mentioned, he’s absolutely not stealing from the inmates. The county government provided for meals, what the money at issue was intended to cover, from other funds.

          What do you expect the Sheriff to do in that case, forcibly overfeed the inmates?

  • In a State that routinely ranks near the bottom in government integrity, the incentive to starve prisoners for personal profit is apparently irresistible.:

    If sheriffs need a pay increase, there are far less ethically-perilous ways to provide it.

    • At least on county managed to eliminate the incentive to starve prisoners.

      That county contracted with a private company to provide meal trays for the prisoners in the county jail using separate county funds.

      The prisoner meal money in the Sheriff’s budget is state money.

      Being able to legally pocket any left over state meal money and having been relieved of any need to spend even $1 of the state meal money to feed the county jail prisoners, the sheriff used the state meal money to buy a vacation home, and he didn’t have to starve a single prisoner to do it.

      It’s an insanely stupid system with bass ackwards incentives. But that’s the government for you. Almost every government program is littered with backwards incentives.

      We can only hope (probably in vain) that the publicity will get the Alabama state legislature to fix it.