U.S. District Judge U.W. Clemon in Alabama took the extraordinary step this week of ordering Morgan County Sheriff Greg Bartlett to be locked up in his own jail after testimony showed that he had deprived inmates of adequate food while profiting from the meager diet. Bartlett personally kept $212,000 in “surplus money” from the meal program.
Judge Clemon held the hearing to determine whether the sheriff was in violation of that agreement with some surprising testimony.
Bartlett is to remain the Morgan County jail until he comes up with an adequate plan for feeding the 300 inmates as required under the 2001 court order.
Clemon correctly questioned the legality of allowing sheriffs to keep the surplus money from such programs, noting “He makes money by failing to spend the allocated funds for food for inmates.”
Yet, 55 of Alabama’s 67 counties are allowed to keep 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. Alabama should be ashamed of creating such a system that is ripe with abuse and conflicts of interest. I have done prison work for roughly three decades and I have never heard of such a system.
Inmates testified that they had to struggled to buy enough food to survive. They described how they would often received half an egg, a spoonful of oatmeal and one piece of toast most days at their 3 a.m. daily breakfast.
Bartlett insisted that he took steps to vary the meal such as spending $1,000 cost for an 18-wheeler full of corn dogs, which he split with another sheriff. He then forced the prisoners to eat corn dogs twice a day until they were all used. The judge was not impressed with the corn dog diet as a point of pride. “So until they were used up, they became the staple diet for inmates in the Morgan County Jail?” Clemon asked.
Alabama should be subject to a federal investigation for this program and the violation of the constitutional rights of the inmates in their care. Congress should also hold hearings on the matter since these sheriffs received federal funding directly linked to inmate care.