Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Alabama's crooked system of starving inmates so that sheriffs can use the money for personal expenses finally is being exposed for the whole nation to see

Outgoing Moran Sheriff Ana Franklin
(Decatur Daily)

An Alabama prosecutor is suing his county sheriff for using funds intended for feeding jail inmates to pay her own legal fees. In another sign that nontraditional journalism has immense value, a groundbreaking blog puts the important (and largely unseen) issue in perspective.

Morgan County District Attorney Scott Anderson filed a lawsuit on December 21 seeking to recover funds outgoing Sheriff Ana Franklin allegedly had used for personal expenses. William Gray of Birmingham, one of Franklin's attorneys, said the sheriff used surplus jail-food money to pay lawyers who helped negotiate a deal with federal prosecutors that recently ended with Franklin pleading guilty to a misdemeanor for willful failure to file a tax return. From an article by Eric Fleischauer, of the Decatur Daily:

Some money originally earmarked for feeding Morgan County jail inmates has gone to pay lawyers for Sheriff Ana Franklin, one of her attorneys said.

The legal expenses may be part of at least $105,000 in jail-food money that Morgan County District Attorney Scott Anderson alleges the sheriff has taken or spent.

Anderson [on Dec. 21] filed a civil lawsuit against Franklin alleging she has illegally kept and spent state-issued jail food money that she should have been holding in trust exclusively for the feeding of inmates.

This issue has particular resonance here at Legal Schnauzer since I spent more than five months in an Alabama jail (Shelby County) in 2013-14 for reporting on state legal and political corruption, mostly among Republicans. I became the only U.S. journalist to be incarcerated since 2006 and probably the only American in history to essentially be "arrested for blogging," due to a preliminary injunction that has been an unlawful "prior restraint" under more than 200 years of First Amendment law.

I know what it's like to eat Alabama jail food; I survived on it for more than five months. Since then, we've learned that Alabama sheriffs make it a practice to pocket money intended for jail food and use it for their own purposes. That issue first hit the press in early 2018 when former Etowah County Sheriff Todd Entrekin was found to have pocketed $750,000 in jail-food funds and used most of the money to purchase a beach house in north Florida.

A recent report at shows Entrekin, who lost his bid for re-election, made more than $1.5 million from funds that were supposed to be used for feeding federal immigration detainees at the Etowah County Detention Center in Gadsden.

Morgan County Prosecuting Attorney Scott Anderson
(Decatur Daily)
Here is the equation for Entrekin, Franklin, and other sticky-fingered Alabama sheriffs: The less money you spend on feeding inmates, the more money you will have for your own ventures. The headline on this post might as well be "Alabama sheriffs live in high style by starving inmates." I once was one of those starving inmates; I lost 25 pounds during my five months in jail, and it would have been worse if I had not had resources to take one of the few survival options available to Alabama inmates.

Morgan County Whistle Blower, a ground-breaking blog that has broken one story after another in the Ana Franklin scandal, summarized Alabama's inmate-food crisis in a Dec. 23 post that focused on the Lawrence County Jail:

Folks these jails have become all about the almighty dollar. They are no longer about corrections or punishment. They are about how much money can we make off the inmates and their families or loved ones.

In Lawrence County, if you bond someone out of jail they now charge a $35.00 jail processing fee. Not sure where this money goes or what it is used for or who gets it. Not sure what the purpose of this fee is since in Lawrence County everyone who is arrested or gets a ticket when paying their fine and court costs pays a $35.00 jail fee. This fee is to pay for the construction of the current jail which is 20 years old. Just another burden added to the families for the money maker. This applies to property bonds and bail bondsmen but the $35.00 is separate from what you have to pay the bondsman and must be paid by the person making the bonds. I think this is a clear case of double dipping. The $35.00 jail fee is being paid twice.

As if that is not bad enough as soon as you walk into the doors of the jail you immediately have access to two machines, the first is so you can put money into their account so they can buy items from the jail including food. This seems like a racket to me; first, you don’t feed them adequately and then sell them overpriced food all the while getting rich off leftover jail food money. Next to the first money machine is another money machine to put money into an account so they can use the phones.

These things put a burden on the families, many of whom are already struggling financially. The phones they can do without but when a loved one calls and says they are hungry and it has been well documented they are not being fed properly by these greedy sheriffs it is hard to not rake and scrape and come up with money for them to buy something to eat.

This whole operation just seems to swirl around how we can make money off people who are in jail and contrary to popular belief most are not hardened criminals like the sheriff portrays them. The food is about like this jail processing fee, it all seems like double dipping to me, getting money from the State for food and then getting money from the inmates for food.

The operations of the Sheriff's Department has gone from one of law enforcement to one with multiple systems within the organization that is totally focused on making money.

That is very well stated, and the highlighted portion particularly hits home because I lived under those conditions for five months. I can add one point to this, and I know about it only because I've experienced it firsthand. Bottom line: An inmate does not suffer from Alabama's crooked jail-food system only while he's incarcerated; its impact can stay with him long after he has been set free.

(To be continued)

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