Ala. Sheriff Arrested After Hearing On Skimping on Inmate Food

At the conclusion of a federal court hearing in a case in which Morgan County, Alabama Sheriff Greg Bartlett was being sued for withholding adequate food from inmates, the Judge ordered him arrested.

A federal judge ordered an Alabama sheriff locked up in his own jail Wednesday after holding him in contempt for failing to adequately feed inmates while profiting from the skimpy meals. U.S. District Judge U.W. Clemon had court security arrest Morgan County Sheriff Greg Bartlett at the end of a hearing that produced dramatic testimony from skinny prisoners about paper-thin bologna and cold grits.

During the hearing the Sheriff acknowledged pocketing $212,000 from the prisoner food budget, but said it's legal and a practice that has gone on since the depression: [More...]

Sheriffs in 55 of Alabama's 67 counties operate under the system allowing them to make money operating their jail kitchens. The law pays sheriffs $1.75 a day for each prisoner they house and lets the elected officers pocket any profit they can generate.

The law doesn't require the money to be spent at the jail or within the department; sheriffs can keep it as personal income. They historically have provided little information about profits, so the hearing offered a rare look into a practice that dates back to the Depression.

The court, while opining the practice of pocketing the money was "probably unconstitutional" ordered the Sheriff jailed for contempt of court. In 2001, he had been ordered to provide nutritious meals for the inmates and didn't.

From the testimony at the hearing:

One after another, 10 prisoners told Clemon about receiving meals that are so small they are forced to buy additional snacks from a for-profit store jailers operated inside the lockup. Most of the inmates appeared thin, with baggy jail coveralls hanging off their frames.

...Inmates told of getting half an egg, a spoonful of oatmeal and one piece of toast most days for breakfast, served at 3 a.m. daily. Lunch is usually a handful of chips and two sandwiches with barely enough peanut butter to taste.

"It looks like it was sprayed on with an aerosol can," testified Demetrius Hines, who said he has lost at least 35 pounds in five months since his arrest on drug charges....Prisoners said they never received milk until last week, when attorneys from a human rights center began asking about meals in the jail.

The Sheriff made some big bucks:

Bartlett said he personally made about $95,000 last year feeding inmates after also receiving money from the county and the U.S. government for housing federal prisoners. Despite rising food costs, Bartlett said he made a $62,000 profit in 2007 and $55,000 in 2006.

One thing that got to the judge:

...Bartlett said he and a neighboring sheriff recently split the $1,000 cost for an 18-wheeler full of corn dogs. Prisoners testified they ate corn dogs twice a day for weeks and the judge picked up on those complaints in his questioning of Bartlett.

Sheriff Bartlett will remain in jail until he comes up with a nutritious meal plan for the 300 inmates.

Update: More from the New York Times.

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  • Display: Sort:
    i'm assuming (5.00 / 3) (#4)
    by cpinva on Thu Jan 08, 2009 at 11:35:42 PM EST
    the "jailing-for-profit" laws were done to attract people to an otherwise low paying office. i wonder if the sheriff also profits off of hiring inmates out to private enterprises?

    clearly, this system presents an overt conflict of interest which, at best, is immoral, at worst illegal.

    Items like this (5.00 / 2) (#6)
    by OldCity on Fri Jan 09, 2009 at 08:00:43 AM EST
    always make me think of the larger context.  Essentially, this is a microcosm of the ramifications of the unfunded mandate.  

    We have an overburdened justice/prison system, underpaid public servants (say what you want, if you want professionals, those professionals must be compensated competitively if we are to get competetence and initiative), inadequately funded infratstructure.  

    We have a misguided notion in America that our public servants should not only be smart, competent, accountable and imbued with a vocation for service, but that they should also be altruists, that they don't deserve compensation that they could earn in the private sector.  In other words, they should sacrifice for us, while we will not for them.  

    It's weird.  We could probably get a much higher caliber of public servant, and require far more accountability and transparency if we would just admit that those people should be paid fairly.  

    Of course, the next question will be, "But where will the money come from?"  Well, that's budgeting...you can only have what you're willing to pay for.  In the case of this country, we seem to have forgotten that it costs money to run governments.  Aside of that, if we're willing to commit BILLIONS of dollars to financial instituions, what's wrong with taking the same approach to necessary government services?  


    From the NYT: (5.00 / 1) (#11)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Fri Jan 09, 2009 at 12:36:47 PM EST
    The sheriff's defenders, like Mr. Timmons, said Sheriff Bartlett, who told the court his salary was about $64,000, was merely following the law -- Alabama law.
    He "profited" about $212K over 3 years with 300 inmates in his jail, that equals about $0.65/inmate/day.

    The inmates' daily food budget was $1.75/day, so he was taking more than 1/3 of each inmate's food each day.

    Seems completely indefensible to me, as is the law which apparently allows him to do so.

    agreed. (none / 0) (#12)
    by cpinva on Fri Jan 09, 2009 at 06:13:15 PM EST
    Seems completely indefensible to me, as is the law which apparently allows him to do so.

    that said, don't expect it to change. they'll claim that, without that incentive, wild gangs will be running loose on the streets of alabama.


    He should definitely get a taste of his own (5.00 / 1) (#14)
    by jussumbody on Sat Jan 10, 2009 at 08:22:22 AM EST
    medicine (and baloney sandwiches) for a few weeks.  But how the hell you're supposed to feed anyone in the US for $1.75/day is ridiculous!  There is just no way.  I can't imagine those inmates would be much better off if they had that extra $.65 spent on them.  Anyone with responsibility over those jails should be cooling their heels in the pokey along with the Sheriff.

    actually, (none / 0) (#15)
    by cpinva on Sat Jan 10, 2009 at 09:38:02 AM EST
    But how the hell you're supposed to feed anyone in the US for $1.75/day is ridiculous! There is just no way.

    you probably can. you purchase in-bulk, institutional grade products. as well, a jail can probably obtain free cheese, milk, peanut butter and other items from the Dept. of Ag., much like public schools do.

    now, the meals aren't going to taste like they came from a 5 star restaurant, but they won't be too bad, and they will be nutritious.


    sheriff's profits (none / 0) (#1)
    by jharp on Thu Jan 08, 2009 at 10:37:31 PM EST
    I am pretty darn sure the same policy prevails in Indiana, my home state.

    The sheriff gets a per diem per inmate per day and pockets the whatever savings he can.

    this is unbelievable and it has been (none / 0) (#2)
    by befuddledvoter on Thu Jan 08, 2009 at 11:06:07 PM EST
    going on since the Depression??  So the less you feed the prisoners, the more the Sheriff pockets?  That is crazy!!  I am amazed that in all these years the issue is just now making it to court.  

    I think they should give this Sheriff a taste of his own medicine, just for a couple of days.

    Just for a couple of days? (none / 0) (#13)
    by Jacob Freeze on Fri Jan 09, 2009 at 10:13:28 PM EST
    "I think they should give this Sheriff a taste of his own medicine, just for a couple of days."

    That doesn't sound like an adequate punishment to me, for starving who knows how many prisoners, year after year.

    Why not instead....

    Cut his heart out and nail it to the jailhouse door?


    Remember This? (none / 0) (#3)
    by squeaky on Thu Jan 08, 2009 at 11:25:10 PM EST
    Tillman KO'ed

    Longtime Mobile County Sheriff Jack Tillman was allowed to quietly slip away this year after District Attorney John Tyson's investigation into his handling of the Metro Jail's "food fund," and other operations within the sheriff's department.

    Tillman was eventually indicted on five felony charges pertaining to his handling of the food fund, as well as his testimony in a 2003 criminal case against his sister-in-law Brenda Pate. Tillman pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors, perjury and an ethics offense, agreed to repay some of the $13,000 he shifted from the food fund to his personal retirement account and resigned office.


    Business as usual?

    Amazing (none / 0) (#5)
    by Steve M on Thu Jan 08, 2009 at 11:44:15 PM EST
    Michael Vick's dogs got better treatment.  Good for the federal courts for continuing to do their duty.

    Ala. Sheriff Arrested (none / 0) (#7)
    by Barefoot and Pregnant on Fri Jan 09, 2009 at 08:19:40 AM EST
    WHAT A SHOCKER! A politician doing something immoral and probably illegal?? I lived in Morgan County, AL until a couple of years ago and I can tell you that this story just scratches the surface in exposing corruption among public officials. Unfortunately for citizens, this type activity is considered normal in Ala. politics.

    He's ten times worse than... (none / 0) (#8)
    by kdog on Fri Jan 09, 2009 at 08:54:46 AM EST
    the fictional Warden Samuel Norton from "Shawshank Redemption"...at least Norton only skimmed and stole from the chain gang works program, not the food program...which is uber-sh*tty under normal circumstances, never mind taken to such greedy inhumane extremes like as done by Sheriff Scum over here.

    Makes you so mad you wanna see the sheriff put in a communal area of the jail so as to receive some jailhouse justice...let his arse eat d*ck...karma is a b*tch.  I know, I know...that ain't righteous, though it would be justice.  

    I was also thinking... (5.00 / 1) (#9)
    by sj on Fri Jan 09, 2009 at 09:19:45 AM EST
    ...that, while it seems appropriate to me that he be incarcerated in the same jail that he is supposed to run, he should also be subsisting on the same menues that he provided for the inmates.

    Food scams: same mo as the fictional warden (none / 0) (#10)
    by DFLer on Fri Jan 09, 2009 at 09:26:20 AM EST
    in Brubaker, speaking of good prison movies.

    Allowed or what? (none / 0) (#16)
    by sistersue on Sun Jan 11, 2009 at 10:30:03 AM EST
    This pos sheriff did a bad deed but, he was allowed to take the extra that was left over which should of never been allowed!   Anyone that is allowed to put their hand in the cookie jar will take it all and not just one! People are greedy