Alabama Sheriffs Pocket Tens of Thousands of Taxpayer Dollars Allocated to Feed Inmates

Between 2014 and 2016, the sheriff of one Alabama county pocketed more than $110,000 worth of “excess” taxpayer dollars his office received to feed inmates in the county jail he oversees.

Another Alabama sheriff paid a teenager to mow his lawn in 2015 using checks that drew from funds that were allocated for inmate food but ended up in one of his personal accounts.

They contend that they are not breaking the law by taking thousands of federal, state and municipal tax dollars that they receive each year as allocations to feed inmates in their jails. The two sheriffs – and likely others across the state – say they are following the letter of a longstanding Alabama state law that they believe allows for them to keep any funds designated to feed county jail inmates that do not end up being used for that purpose.

The law is at the center of a lawsuit jointly filed Jan. 5 by the Southern Center for Human Rights and the Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice. The two centers sued 49 Alabama county sheriffs over their “refusal” for a period of several months “to produce public records showing whether, and if so by how much, they have personally profited from funds allocated for feeding people in their jails,” according to a statement they released last month.

The centers contend that state law does not in fact allow the sheriffs to keep any money allocated to feed inmates. They argue that such an interpretation of the law establishes perverse incentives, leads to the misuse of tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars annually, and ultimately results in sheriffs serving inmates minimal amounts of low-quality food in county jails across the state.

“Our position is that this practice is illegal now, but it’s clear that many sheriffs believe its legal for them to do this,” Aaron Littman, a staff attorney at the Southern Center for Human Rights, told Thursday.

“Clearly this is a practice which is problematic because it creates an incentive for sheriffs to spend as little as possible on feeding folks … and obviously when a minimal amount of money is approved for something and less than that is spent, the quality suffers.”

Monroe County Sheriff Thomas Tate recently provided the Southern Center for Human Rights with copies of handwritten ledgers detailing exactly how much money his office received from federal state and municipal governments to feed inmates in 2014, 2015 and 2016, and what was done with those funds.

The documents show that the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office received a total of $423,364.60 over that three-year period to pay for a total of 83,878 days worth of meals for inmates – a measure referred to as “inmate days” – in the county’s jails. Of that money, $110,459.77 was “declared excess and paid to Sheriff Thomas Tate,” according to the ledgers.

The amount of “excess” funds Tate received rose each year, despite the fact that the number of inmate days fell each year and the per diem amounts paid to his office – $1.80 per state inmate per day; $5 per municipal inmate per day; and $10 per federal inmate per day- did not change between 2014 and 2016. In 2014, he pocketed less than $29,000; in 2016, he personally received more than $44,000. As of the 2010 U.S. Census, Monroe County was home to just 23,068 residents.

“I do it just like the law tells us to. That’s about all I have to say about that,” Tate said during a brief phone interview with Friday. “We feed all our inmates good and the excess goes to the sheriff. If you declare it excess, you take it and you pay taxes on it.”

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Filming Cops
Filming Cops 5618 posts

Filming Cops was started in 2010 as a conglomerative blogging service documenting police abuse. The aim isn’t to demonize the natural concept of security provision as such, but to highlight specific cases of State-monopolized police brutality that are otherwise ignored by traditional media outlets.

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