Morgan County Alabama Sheriff Greg Bartlett spent Wednesday night in jail. A federal judge sent him there for contempt of court regarding failure to make good on past promises to properly feed Morgan County jail inmates. In the past three years, Sheriff Bartlett has pocketed over $200,000 meant to feed the inmates. In Alabama, that’s not necessarily illegal.
As reported by the New York Times, Alabama currently allocates $1.75 per day to feed inmates in county jails. Since he became sheriff in 2003, a nice chunk of that $1.75 for each inmate's daily sustenance in Morgan County went into Greg Bartlett’s pocket.
Under an Alabama law dating back the early decades of last century, sheriffs are allowed to keep whatever portion of the inmate food budget which they do not spend. According to Federal Judge U.W. Clemon, this law invites criminality in sheriffs by giving them a direct monetary incentive not to feed prisoners. The head of Alabama Sheriffs' Association sees it differently. He complained to the Times that "[y]ou're never going to satisfy any incarcerated individual ... an inmate is not in jail for singing too loud in choir on Sunday."
Though the law allowing sheriffs to pocket inmate food money seems a relic from the past, Alabama recently gave it a fresh stamp of approval. In March of 2008, the Alabama Attorney General's Office issued an opinion in stating that sheriffs keeping the unspent inmate food funds was, in fact, legal.
According to Judge Clemon, however, authority to pocket money meant for inmate food does not entitle sheriffs to inadequately feed the inmates. He stated that Sheriff Bartlett blatantly violated past agreements to properly feed his inmates. He also stated that he could not ignore undisputed evidence that most of the inmates had lost significant amounts of weight.
CNN reports that Sheriff Bartlett was released Thursday. Through his attorney, he promised to use all state and federal funds allocated to feed inmates, and that "fresh fruit, fresh milk, vegetables and whole grains will be a regular part of the monthly menu."